Movie Review: ‘Annabelle: Creation’ a Scary Good Time
Nearly twenty years after the success of horror films like The Blair Witch Project and The Ring, Hollywood studios have amalgamated the best aspects of the best films in the genre to produce a long series of finely-tuned scare shows in franchises like Insidious and The Conjuring.
Gone are the faux-low-budget aspects of found footage horror, but also gone are the plot-driven mystery movie storylines of Ring-like ghost tales. These films are (almost) single-minded in their intent to scare the audience, utilizing filmmaking craft instead of gimmickry.
And Annabelle: Creation, a prequel to the tepid 2014 Annabelle, which was itself a spinoff/prequel to the excellent original Conjuring film, might be the finest (and scariest) example of one of these things yet.
It plays out like the first act of your typical Poltergeist-like horror movie, with a brief setup involving happy parents Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia, who’s terrific here) and Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto) and their young 7-year-old daughter Annabelle (Samara Lee)...
Years later, the Mullins are no longer a cheerful couple when they welcome a busload of orphan girls and Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) into their isolated home. And almost immediately, we (and they) realize there is something terribly wrong involving all manner of creepy things that go bump in the night.
The young girls range from eight or nine into their teens, and after the premise is established they’re put in peril throughout the rest of the movie in a series of escalating scare scenes that involve all manner of creepy artifacts, including but not limited to:
- The Mullins’ eerie daughter
- Mrs. Mullins herself, who wears a doll’s mask over half of her face
- The creepy Annabelle doll
- A terrifying baghead scarecrow
- Something spooky in a crawlspace under the stairs
- A bottomless well
- A creaky dumbwaiter that is not an ideal hiding place
- And a representation of pure evil that may be Satan himself
And throughout much of the film, the main target of the terror is Janice (Talitha Bateman), a young girl with polio who must use a crutch and get up and downstairs with one of those slow-moving stair lifts.
In most of these movies, the ghostly presence is identified, a priest and spiritualist are called for advice, and the lead character might go to the library and research their demon on microfiche. Heck, that’s (almost) exactly what happened in the previous film.
Not here: the girl’s are just spooking themselves, the adult characters rationalize, and by the time Sister Charlotte figures out what’s going on, it’s too late. No mystery to unravel, no spirit to appease or defeat: he only story concern here is who’s going to be alive by the end of the movie.
The tension in this movie never stops escalating, but it does pause for a couple minutes right in the middle of the scares for a explanatory flashback. We don’t need the exposition, but it goes by briskly and then it’s back to terrifying.
Annabelle: Creation is the cinematic equivalent of a haunted house, a carnival ride we subject ourselves to in order to experience terror, not to be told a story. As a series of long walks through dark corridors punctuated by the occasional “boo!” moment, this is a perfect scareshow.
One of the best aspects of both of these Annabelle movies is the use of the doll. It never opens its eyes, or turns its head, or grabs a knife and lunges at the screen. It’s just a creepy-looking doll sitting there and looking creepy, and that’s enough to send shivers down our spines.
Director David F. Sandberg previously made the not-bad Lights Out, a feature-length version of his creepy short film. Like James Wan, who made The Conjuring, he knows how to terrify an audience and he does so through finely-tuned filmmaking craft, with great use of long tracking shots and dead space on the screen. There’s an expertise behind the camera in these horror movies missing from most mainstream films in other genres.
Annabelle 2 may not be a great movie by traditional measures, but it makes for a terrifying haunted house ride. Try and watch it by yourself, late at night, with the lights out.