When I was a kid, I collected dolls with my mother. I loved them, but my brother thought they were creepy, which made me love them just a just a little more. I am not afraid of dolls, but demons really scare me. Annabelle: Creation tells the origin story of the evil doll using many of the same scare tactics that The Conjuring deployed. The result is pretty scary, if not very original.
Annabelle: Creation serves as a prequel to Annabelle, which I found more comical than frightening. Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto) live happily in a big, rural estate with their daughter, Bee (Samara Lee). When Bee is killed suddenly, the couple prays that they can see or talk to their daughter again, and a dark presence takes advantage of their grief, asking if it can take up residence in a doll that Samuel made. Not realizing that the spirit is demonic, not their daughter, the Mullins say yes. Twelve years later, believing the evil has been contained, the Mullins open their home to six orphaned girls (including Philippa Coulthard, and Grace Fulton, Tayler Buck and Lou Lou Safran) and the nun (Stephanie Sigman) who takes care of them. It’s not long, however, before the spirit starts to prey on the girls.
One of the stronger elements of how this horror series tells stories is the sweetness included in the mix. The Conjuring scared me so much that I would have walked out had I not been with friends, but the family dynamic at the heart of the story really made me care about the outcome. In his film, the friendship between the girls adds that sweetness. The demon first goes after Janice (Talitha Bateman), who uses a crutch because of a childhood case of polio. Janice and Linda (Lulu Wilson) have a strong bond and a pact to stick together. The scenario is endearing, but it also ventures into some cliched “spunky girl saves the day!” territory.
The team behind the Conjuring series also does a terrifying job at using childhood objects and games to scare audiences. It slightly bends credibility that Mr. Mullins could be considered such a good dollmaker and create a doll as ugly and creepy as Annabelle, but the film does not rest solely on the doll. Hide and Seek, other toys and telling stories with a flashlight under the sheets are all used to scary ends. Linda’s scenes took me back to that childhood feeling of wanting to hide under the covers, but feeling like a sitting duck when I did. It is not an original tactic, but these filmmakers use it exceptionally well.
Aside from the recycling of classic genre tropes, I think the biggest weakness of the film stems from the creators’ desire to make a connected world of horror films. Although I think the goal is interesting and ambitious, the peppering of this film with bits meant to connect it to the others does not always serve the story at hand well. The biggest example is the way the film rushes through the conclusion of the main story to get to an epilogue that connects it to the first Annabelle film. That ending makes sense when looking at the series as a whole, but seems sloppily tacked on to this installment. They also drop hints for the next film, The Nun, which are creepy in the moment, but do not make sense without the context. In short, connecting the big picture dots makes the primary story a little busy and cluttered.
Annabelle: Creation features some strong performances, particularly by its young actresses. It has plenty of scary moments and is beautifully crafted, much like The Conjuring. Like other films in the series, it makes up for a lack of originality with good production design. I rate it 3.5/5 stars.
Annabelle: Creation was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by David F. Sandberg. It runs 109 minutes and is rated R for horror violence and terror.
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