Director: David Sandberg
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Miranda Otto, Samara Lee, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Lou Lou Safran
There’s nothing more depressing than watching a clearly talented filmmaker struggling with a lame script, and that’s exactly what we get with Annabelle: Creation. The movie is directed by David Sandberg, who made last year’s terrific PG-13 horror film Light’s Out, as well as the excellent short film that inspired it. When it comes to building suspense and terror by using shadows and sinister noises, the man is a genius. Just look at what he does with a scene set in broad daylight, involving a demon-possessed child stepping into a dark hallway. It’s absolutely chilling.
But then there’s the screenplay by Gary Dauberman, and unfortunately, it’s a mess. Annabelle: Creation is filled with characters who have to investigate every single sinister noise that they hear, who linger in rooms where something evil clearly resides, and who fail to leave a haunted house even after a pivotal character dies a ghastly death. The characters in this movie are so dumb that it robs tension from many of the scare scenes. You just can’t help but think how much could have been avoided if the characters had an inkling of common sense.
The story takes place in the late 1950s, and begins with the kindly Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the six orphan girls under her charge being driven to the isolated California farm house of doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his bed-ridden wife Esther (Miranda Otto). The film gives the most attention to two of the orphaned girls, the sweet-natured Linda (Lulu Wilson) and her best friend Janice (Talitha Bateman, very good). Janice will become the target for much of the horror that happens there, given that she’s physically the weakest in the bunch (she was left crippled by polio).
There is an evil in the house, and it’s one that the Mullins inadvertently let in. Twelve years ago, their daughter and only child Annabelle (Samara Lee) was killed in a freak automobile accident. They tried to contact her after her death, and when they got a response asking to live in Annabelle’s creepy doll, they said yes because they thought they were speaking to their daughter (I guess it wasn't a Satan-worshiping cult member bleeding on the doll that made it so evil after all). It turns out that the being living inside the doll is not their daughter, but rather a demon, and when they finally catch on, they lock the doll in their daughter’s bedroom closet.
They pasted every inch of the wall in the closet with ripped pages from the Bible and have the room blessed, although it doesn’t seem to do anything since the demon is able to unlock Annabelle’s bedroom door so Janice can wonder in and open the closet. What I want to know is why the Mullins took in so many orphaned children into their home when they knew that something evil was in there. There is talk about wanting the girls so they could bring life into their home, but I’m not buying it. Also, Janice sure does a lot of screaming over the many nights she’s attacked by the demon, yet somehow, she doesn’t wake anybody up. Those are some heavy sleepers there.
On a purely technical note, Annabelle: Creation is a very well-made movie. The production design by Jennifer Spence, art direction by Jason Garner, and set decoration by Lisa Son are all luminous, and they’re nicely complimented by Maxime Alexandre’s dexterous cinematography. This is an excellent looking movie, and the performances are at least competent, with Tabitha Bateman standing out as the tortured Janice.
It’s ultimately the writing and some unnecessary touches which ultimately do the movie in. The characters are not very well-developed, and they continuously make one stupid decision after another. The climax contains a couple of chilling moments (the best of which involves a scarecrow locked up in the barn), but the movie allows it to go on for way too long, until it ultimately just wears you out. And while Sandberg is able to generate some tension without spilling a drop of blood, there are some unnecessary moments of gore, the worst of which involves the sawn-in-half corpse of a woman nailed to a bedroom wall.
The original Annabelle was a prequel to The Conjuring, and this movie is a prequel to the original Annabelle. Because this is a prequel to a prequel, it tries to tie in with the first Annabelle movie, but it does so in an anticlimactic and unsatisfying way. Like Ouija: Origin of Evil from last year, Annabelle: Creation is miles better than its predecessor. Unlike that film, however, it’s not a very good movie overall.
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
Rated R for horror violence and gore.