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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle: Creation

Second doll prequel is a cabbage patch of terror.


Review by Brandon Wolfe

The Annabelle preamble in The Conjuring was one of the best parts of one of the best contemporary horror films. Functioning as something of a freestanding short film within the larger narrative, the tale of two young nurses tormented in their apartment by the presence of a possessed doll was an uncommonly well-done horror chamber piece. That it told a story that was purported to be based in fact helped, but the subtlety on display in the sequence managed to burrow under the skin in ways that the usual sledgehammer approach in modern horror never could. The sequence was so memorable that Annabelle was gifted her own spin-off film a year later, though that film showcased none of the deftness of her debut and flailed about in trying to justify its existence.

But that spin-off made a tidy profit, and so Annabelle was obligated to return to active duty. With a sequel not possible, since Annabelle fed right into the events of The Conjuring and with the doll being still locked in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s antique-riddled containment unit in the franchise’s subsequent timeline, we now get a prequel to the prequel, drumming up another origin story for the doll that makes her not unlike her Russian nesting cousins. The freakiest thing about all this? Annabelle: Creation totally, improbably, works.


Back in the 1940s, dollmaker Samuel Mullins (a stern and burly Anthony LaPaglia) is at work crafting a familiar-looking doll for his daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), who likes to play hide-and-seek with her dad by leaving him little notes containing opaque clues. Along with matriarch Esther (an underused Miranda Otto), the Mullins live a happy existence on their expansive farmhouse, until a fluke accident claims Bee’s young life. Flashing forward 12 years, the Mullins are shells of the people they once were. Samuel is dead-eyed and haunted, Esther is a recluse who never leaves her bed and their home has grown dilapidated and cold. Nevertheless, they have opened their home to a group of young girls displaced from an orphanage and looked after by a nun named Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman).

One orphan, Janice (Talitha Bateman), is disabled and walks with a crutch, though this hardly impedes her natural curiosity. She snoops around the locked room that Samuel has forbade the girls from entering and discovers the Annabelle doll in the room’s closet. From there, the spooky goings-on come on strong and never let up. Apparitions, slamming doors, demonic figures, the works. And at the center of all of it is that damned doll and her giant ghastly eyes.

Annabelle: Creation clearly looks to The Conjuring for inspiration more than its immediate predecessor. Once more, we’re in a creepy old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, with a large group of young girls being frightened and beleaguered by supernatural forces. And, like The Conjuring, Creation is an absolutely merciless scare machine, never stopping to give anyone onscreen or off a breather. What’s more, as was the case with last year’s similarly “wait, why is this good?” prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil, it actually dovetails with its predecessor in a surprisingly clever way, making a drab film retroactively a touch more interesting as a result. Creation even finds time to set up the next Conjuring spin-off, centering on The Conjuring 2’s demonic nun. For what seemed like a lazy, wholly unneeded cash-in, Creation actually puts in a lot of legwork.


The film isn’t quite up to The Conjuring’s level of old-fashioned craftsmanship, however. It’s more eager to hit the ooga-booga button for a quick jolt. Its characters are also less savvy, falling into horror-victim-dunce mode more often than not. So many people in Creation deign to explore dark rooms or stick their heads into ominous places long past the point where they should know better. All too frequently, someone will have a paranormal encounter that should leave them scarred for life one night, then be shown to be functioning as though things are normal the following day.

But regardless, this is a strong horror outing by any metric. The Conjuring/Annabelle universe somehow doesn’t fall under the Blumhouse banner, but Creation exemplifies that studio’s penchant for sequels that well surpass limp originals. This film knows how to put the screws to an audience, and is actually a better thrill-generator than The Conjuring’s own official sequel. Creation packs so much tension into its 109 minutes that you walk out of it feeling worn, like you’ve just endured something. But in horror, that sensation is a feature, not a bug.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.

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