Review: the horror prequel ‘Annabelle: Creation’

Annabelle: Creation is a major improvement over its dire, vaporous, laughably bad, but inexplicably profitable cash-in, spin-off predecessor. It’s made with more confidence and visual panache than the first film about a demonically possessed doll, but I can only give it points where they’re actually due. This is still a cash-in designed to further create something that we shouldn’t be clamouring for: a cinematic universe based around The Conjuring films. The Conjuring was a great film, but the kind that really only works the first time you see it. With this further stab at elongating and further diluting the brand, it’s apparent that such ideas are more horrifying to think about than the dull, cliché ridden bits of cynical cinema being produced.

Annabelle: Creation isn’t that much of an origin story, despite what the title suggests. Director David F. Sandberg (who made the fun, but slight Lights Out last year) and returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman shift most of the creepy looking doll’s backstory to the background for yet another bog standard haunted house scare-fest. Twelve years after their beloved daughter is hit by a car and killed, a retired doll maker (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto) are looking to move on with their lives. Part of their plan involves giving room and board to a small Catholic orphanage in need of a new home. A nun (Stephanie Sigman) and a handful of young girls take up residence with the couple, but it’s not long before constantly picked on, semi-crippled polio survivor Janice (Talitha Bateman, a big stand-out in an otherwise indistinguishable film), realizes that there’s something spooky going on behind that door that their new host keeps tightly locked up. Naturally, the evil force locked within that room finds a way to get out and hysteria ensues.

The Conjuring was an entertaining, well made change of pace precisely because no one had made a film about haunting that accomplished in quite some time. Annabelle: Creation, wisely eschewing the bizarre mysticism of its cornball predecessor, is desperately trying to be the third Conjuring film while simultaneously reminding the viewer that there’s another spin-off involving The Conjuring 2’s spooky nun just on the horizon. Has Sandberg made an effectively well directed film? Yes, but from top to bottom I have seen this movie before and most viewers can immediately recognize that there’s nothing new to offer. It only appeals to the jumpiest of people or anyone who hasn’t seen a film pitched at this particular tenor before. Considering that it’s part of a franchise where every film will likely end up feeling the same, that’s a stupid, annoying, and thoroughly boring idea.

There isn’t an original bone in Annabelle: Creation’s lovingly crafted body, and instead of getting caught up in the action and excitement of watching the mostly interchangeable young kids in peril, I started mentally going through the checklist of clichés, tropes, and visuals Sandberg and Dauberman were working from. There are both obvious and hidden crosses in the production design. There are lots of spooky shots where the viewers can see something in the background that characters can’t see. There will be a lot of panning camera shots that will reveal spooky things sneaking up on people. Things get super quiet so every aurally amped up door creak, breeze, bell ringing, and gasp for breath sounds like the arrival of the apocalypse. There are secret passages, dumbwaiters, scarecrows, a creepy well, a shut-in that doesn’t leave her room, eerie photographs, records that play on their own, flickering lights, cars that won’t start when you need them to, contortionists playing demons, and characters falling down only to get pulled swiftly into the darkness by an evil spirit while screaming. Annabelle: Creation has it all and I mean that in the worst way possible. It takes an hour for any real danger to rear its ugly, demonic head, but when it does any sense of real peril and depth is removed and overused, retirement age clichés take its place. It all looks great and the square, rural, mid-century home is nicely designed and laid out, but not a whiff of it is effective if you’ve ever seen a scary movie before in your life.

The supposed revelation about Annabelle’s origins comprises maybe ten total minutes of the film’s second act – none of it is surprising or novel – and not long after that the film rushes headlong into a babbling, illogical special effects heavy climax where stupid people do stupid things repeatedly. If you’ve seen The Conjuring, you can pretty much guess the problem with the doll. It’s more of an “earlier story” than an “origin story.” Viewers don’t even need Dauberman’s obvious, heavy-handed bread crumb trail to figure it out. When the explanation finally hits with a resounding “That’s it?,” it’s hard not to wonder why anyone would even bother making this in the first place.

I know why they would bother. They bother because something like Annabelle: Creation is a cheap film to make that can build a bridge to more cheaply made efforts that can drive profits up even if they underperform. There’s a safety in scary movies like Annabelle: Creation that should be criticized and not embraced. Sandberg is a gifted filmmaker, and the cast does what they can, but what are they trying to accomplish here? The answer is that everyone is trying to earn a paycheck. Annabelle: Creation is ever-so-slightly better made than most films of this nature, but honestly, who cares?

Annabelle: Creation opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, August 11, 2017.

Check out the trailer for Annabelle: Creation:

Andrew Parker
Andrew Parker fell in love with film growing up across the street from a movie theatre. He began writing professionally about film at the age of fourteen, and has been following his passions ever since. His writing has been showcased at various online outlets, as well as in The Globe and Mail, BeatRoute, and NOW Magazine. If he's not watching something or reading something, he's probably sleeping.