It’s been three years since we first saw the cursed Annabelle doll in her own movie (don’t forget she was actually introduced in the original The Conjuring), in what was a 1970s set “origin story.” But with the film’s success, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel and, surprise, we get a prequel instead!
Annabelle: Creation takes place about 24 years before Annabelle and is, perhaps, the real origin story of the doll. The film’s story begins with the Mullins family, Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia), Esther (Miranda Otto) and Bee (Samara Lee). Samuel is a dollmaker and Bee is their daughter who apparently has some illness that is never specified, except her mother worries about her playing too hard and getting overheated. One day after church, a tragic accident takes Bee and twelve years later a group of orphans is being welcomed (in the loosest sense of the word) into the Mullins home. Except Esther is confined to her room and Samuel is less than warm to the girls and their nun guardian, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Of the six girls, two of the younger ones are pretty much outcasts, Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman) who is also disadvantaged because of her polio. Samuel warns Janice to never go into the room with the locked door, but of course the door opens itself one night to let Janice in. The problem is she inadvertently lets something out when she discovers the Annabelle doll in a locked closet lined with pages from the Bible.
Annabelle: Creation, like all of the films in what can now be considered a “Conjuring Cinematic Universe,” is another throwback to the good old days of horror films that relied more on atmosphere and suggestion than explicit images and extra loud sound effects to scare you. The film actually takes its time getting to the horror, allowing us to get to know Linda and Janice (not so much the other “mean girls”) before the evil is unleashed. In the previous films that featured the doll, they took great care to never let us see the doll move, but I can’t be sure that happens in this film. There may be a moment when the head turns on its own … or there may not. I can’t remember if I actually saw that happen or if it is just my mind telling me I saw that happen, and that’s a good thing because the filmmakers have succeeded in making us see more than what’s actually on screen.
One of the best scenes in the first movie took place in the basement storage area of the apartment building where a truly nightmarish black demon lurked. That demon is present again here, using the doll as a conduit, making the Mullinses believe their daughter is communicating with them (as shown in a flashback) until they realize that what they think is Bee is something else. Since the demon is black, and it only manifests itself at night, we only ever get a few glimpses of it here and there which makes it all the more frightening. And this is not CGI creature either, being played once again by Joseph Bishara (who plays the demons in all of the Conjuring movies). It’s all very effective.
The movie’s two name actors, LaPaglia and Otto, aren’t on screen all that much although Otto has the smallest screen time so the movie really rests on the shoulders of the two child actors, Wilson and Bateman. Wilson is terrific in her reactions to the horrors going on around her, and she also makes you feel for her as she tries to move into the inner circle of the four other girls. It’s never really clear why they don’t like her, perhaps because of her age, but one of the others is at least as young as she is. But if you’ve ever felt like the outsider among the popular kids, you can relate to Linda thanks to Wilson’s performance. Bateman has the harder job of playing a girl with polio, requiring a brace on one leg, not being able to really defend herself from the evil she’s unleashed. She features in one of the movie’s best jump scares (the woman behind me at the screening actually lost her shoe when she jumped) and then has to balance being Janice and something not quite Janice. Both of the girls are natural, never precocious, and make you invested in their fates.
If I have any complaints about the movie, it’s the too-heavy reliance on characters continuing to go places where they, and the audience, know they should not. I don’t know how many times Janice feels the need to return to the room she was told not to enter, but she does and it gets a little frustrating that this is used as the film’s plot device. Going in once and unleashing the evil should have been enough, but to keep returning to the scene gets a little ridiculous. Otherwise, Annabelle: Creation is effectively atmospheric and scary, setting you on the edge of your seat for the second half of the movie. And keep an eye out for the clever way the film ties into The Conjuring 2 as Samuel looks at one of Sister Charlotte’s photographs … and then stay till the end of the credits for a tease of what’s to come.
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Annabelle: Creation runs 1 hour 49 minutes, and is rated R for horror violence and terror.