Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman.
In 2013, Director James Wan unleashed The Conjuring, a film that scared the bejeezus out of audiences worldwide. It’s success led to a direct sequel, The Conjuring 2 (2016), but then an odd thing happened. The success of The Conjuring 2 didn’t lead to a third film in that franchise (although one is in the pipeline), it led to an offshoot film based on a character from the film. Not a human character mind you, but instead an inanimate object. An extremely creepy doll christened Annabelle. And in 2014, a film based on that doll was released to middling critical reaction, but audiences took to it like Fred Krueger to sleeping teens. It was the first film in what was being called “The Conjuring Universe“, and now it has a sequel of its own with the uninspired title Annabelle: Creation. This film purports to tell audiences the origin of the dreaded doll, but how scary can yet another movie about a doll (that actually doesn’t do very much but look creepy) actually be?
In this case, very scary indeed.
Taking place in the 50’s, Annabelle: Creation tells the story of the Mullins family, Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia), Esther (Miranda Otto), and their young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee). Respected members of their community, Samuel is also a doll maker whose dolls are in constant demand. The couple lose their beloved daughter in a horrendous accident, and 12 years later they decide to open their home to a group of Catholic orphaned girls in the hope that they might somehow enliven the now dreary & lifeless home the Mullins still live in. Once the girls arrive, with their live in teacher, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), they’re immediately delighted with the expanse of the new home. But there are a few rules: Two rooms are not to be entered. One being the room in which the reclusive Mrs. Mullins stays in. The other is a locked room upstairs which turns out to be the room which houses the cursed doll. But of course, one of the girls finds herself drawn to the room. Janice (Talitha Bateman) suffers from polio, and wears a leg brace, but she has little trouble entering the locked room. Her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) accompanies her one night, but automatically senses that there’s something really wrong in the room. But Janice persists in visiting the room, and eventually discovers a door adorned with pages from the bible all over it. And what’s behind that door is a secret that the Mullins have been keeping hidden for many years…
Before I continue, let’s get one thing out of the way. It’s a known fact that I suffer from Automatonophobia (aka the fear of dolls, mannequins, ventriloquist dummies, etc.) So movies like this one and its ilk are immediate red flags for me. But because of who I am (The lord of all that’s black and hidden), and what I do (review movies like this one for the fine folks here at Horrornews.net) – I have to watch them. That being said, the odd thing about this film (and it’s precursor), is that the titular doll really doesn’t do much more than sit there. It’s whats attached to the doll (namely, a really heinous demon) that does all of the dirty work in Annabelle’s name. Director David F. Sandberg gets that, and does an amazing job of making sure that the audience gets it too. But at the same time, he makes sure that that damned doll takes center stage when necessary. And when he chooses to point his camera at it, making the audience stare at it for an uncomfortable amount of time, it becomes the scariest thing in the film.
It’s patently obvious that Sandberg has studied a lot of what James Wan has done with the two Conjuring films (& to a lesser degree the first two Insidious films as well.) Why do I believe that? Because Annabelle: Creation is a whirling miasma of tension and scares that rarely let up, much like both of the Conjuring films. Both Sandberg and Wan know what’s scary, and Sandberg makes the most out of what can be graciously described as a derivative script from writer Gary Dauberman. I don’t mean to imply that there are holes in the script, but yeah – there are some really big WTF moments here where the kids do the exact opposite of what real kids would do in certain situations. You can call it a series of plot contrivances in order to further the story along, and you wouldn’t be too wrong. But I prefer to think of it as lazy script writing.
Miraculously, Sandberg makes all of it work. There are moments in this film during which I was literally frozen in fear. And believe me when I say that as someone whose been watching scary flicks since time immemorial, that doesn’t happen very often. I use the word “Miraculously” because the situations that lead to some of the scarier moments in the film are pretty clunkily set up by the script, and seem to be pretty stupid at first. But Sandberg uses camera angles, sound, shadows, and the viewers fear of what might might be around the corner masterfully to wring out every drop of fright and tension that he can from every scene. Happily, he has a cast that’s game, and are fully invested in their characters.
Young actresses Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson command the screen, and their relationship becomes one that the audience can immediately identify with. WIlson was featured in last year’s Quija: Origin of Evil, and oddly enough, Annabelle: Creation can be called this year’s Quija: Origin of Evil in the sense that it’s a really good sequel to a tepidly received film that didn’t even warrant a sequel in the first place. Sandberg directed last year’s Lights Out (aka Jump Scare: The Movie), and that film had an even flimsier script than this one, and while its central premise got old after about 45 minutes, those first 45 minutes were some of the most frightening I’d seen in awhile. The script for Annabelle: Creation could be called “Don’t Go In There: The Movie” and it wouldn’t be too far off. Happily Sandberg knows what he’s doing, and turns a decidedly ordinary script into the scariest film of the year so far.
What’s keeping me from giving this film a five shroud rating is an ending that might confuse anyone who hasn’t seen the previous film, and that script, as there’s not a whole lot of logic to be found in Annabelle: Creation. As a matter of fact, there are a few scenes that came from some on the spot innovation, and from a dream that Sandberg had that weren’t in the script at all. So a few of the better scenes in the film weren’t even in the script, which doesn’t say much for the script – does it? Regardless of it’s script deficiencies, Annabelle: Creation will scare the hell out of you because it’s a deftly crafted popcorn film full of dread and frights that you will take home with you. See it with a packed audience, and marvel at the sounds of people being genuinely scared at a horror movie again!
Annabelle: Origins – 4.5 out of 5 shrouds.