Thanks to a special advanced screening, I was able to check out the latest installment from The Conjuring universe; the sequel-that’s-really-a-prequel to 2014’s Annabelle. Unfortunately, I signed a confidentiality agreement barring me from releasing a review until the film was available nationwide. So, with Annabelle: Creation streaming across cinema screens throughout Australia, there’s only one thing left to do. Strap yourselves in. You’re in for a creepy ride.
The storyline is pretty simple; several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a doll maker and his wife, open their home to a nun and several girls from a closed orphanage. But soon after the girls’ arrival, they are all targeted by the doll maker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.
An origins story taking place long before the events of Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation dolls out just the right kind of scares while following classic horror genre elements; a past tragedy? Check. Isolated farm house? Check. Creepy doll that’s locked away for a very good reason? Check.
A fantastic cast, lead by Australian actors Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia, is the film’s greatest strength. You care about Janice, Linda, and the small group of orphan girls who travel to an isolated house in the mid-'50s to stay with the Mullins (Otto and LaPaglia). In a pre-opening title sequence, you see that the couple were left devastated by the sudden death of their daughter 12 years ago in a freak, yet somewhat predicable accident. In an effort to move on, they open their house to the orphans, supervised by Sister Charlotte.
Janice, who the story focuses on, embodies what cinema goers expect from a movie heroine. She suffers from polio, but that doesn’t deter her as she follows her curiosity, exploring the house that she’ll call home. While Janice explores the interior filled with locked doors, doll houses, and hidden keys, the other girls explore the grounds. They have fun running around, something Janice is incapable of, and it's noted early on that she's the weakest, physically speaking, of the group.
David F. Sandberg recreates the creepy feel of his debut film, Lights Out (2016), by embracing the clichéd horror elements fans have come to know and love, giving them a slight twist, and setting them loose on unsuspecting audience members. This unsettling wave of terror seems to be Sandberg’s strength as you will get a certain déjà vu feeling comparing the two films.
The tension created by Sandberg is undeniably enthralling. Everyday objects, like a rocking chair or a scarecrow, have a new found creepiness. Sandberg often pauses on moments when the girls discover what I like to call a “climatic object” like a dumbwaiter, a giant well, a record player and a chair lift on the stairs. A throwback nod to horror movies of the past, and giving audiences an indication of the demonic terror that’s about to be unleashed.
While these moments are great for suspense building, they are predictable and very clichéd. Those who are savvy to horror, like me, will be able to foresee what’s about to happen.
As the film wears on, the carefully crafted tension and suspense fizzle out at the preordained end. It almost feels rushed, and the story of Janice is left up in the air with a sense of unfairness. If the film’s agenda hadn’t already been set by the title, it might have found the freedom to explore a more logical ending.
Despite being an origins story, and part of the successful Conjuring universe, Annabelle: Creation could pass for a stand-alone movie. In fact, there’s no need to watch the original film before enjoying the prequel.
Believable, sympathetic characters, high tension, and continuing to build on the myth of Annabelle, the possessed doll, Annabelle: Creation is well worth the watch. Far more enjoyable that its predecessor, it delivers the scares, casting a sense of uneasiness over the hushed audience.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Annabelle: Creation is in theatres in the UK, US and Australia this Friday, 11 August