12 years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, where they soon become the target of the dollmaker's possessed creation, Annabelle.
When posed with the question “What is the best horror movie of the decade?”, 2013’s The Conjuring will no doubt be a popular answer. The relentless and ever-increasing terror of the Perron family home introduced the world to Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple who investigate the paranormal. As interesting as they were, it was their ‘Occult Museum’ and its contents which left a real impact – especially a possessed doll known as Annabelle.
So much so, that in 2014 the doll got its own spin-off film. But unlike its excellent predecessor, Annabelle was a crushing disappointment, devoid of any of the factors which made The Conjuring so special. Nevertheless, through association and curiosity, the film made a staggering $256 million dollars on its meager $6.5 million. Fast forward three years, and the inevitable sequel arrives in the form of a prequel with the Annabelle: Creation.
In 1955, twelve years after the death of their daughter Bee, dollmaker Sam Mullins and his wife Esther open their home up to six orphans and the Sister who cares for them when a nearby orphanage closes. On the very first night in their new home, a polio stricken young girl named Janice sneaks into Bee’s room and unlocks the closet, and discovers the Annabelle doll inside. By opening the door, the child unwittingly releases the demon which was locked inside, and from then on it takes a special interest in Janice, with the intent of possessing her.
It’s not the most original story in the world but director David F. Sandberg, who impressed with his feature debut Lights Out in 2016, competently delivers the predictability with confidence. There’s nothing particularly fresh with any of the scares, most of which consist of the usual jump variety, but using the expertise and methods he brought to Lights Out, the jolts manage to mantain effectiveness, even if they can be seen from a mile off.
Speaking of ‘seeing’, Sandberg toys with lighting (or lack of) much like he did with his first offering. Long, lingering takes pointing directly into darkness build tension brilliantly, and lighting plays a crucial part in pretty much all of the major scares, including an oft-missed post credit scene which showcases this point perfectly.
The biggest plaudit goes to the young cast, however: Talitha Bateman as Julia is totally believable in her fear and worry, but it’s Lulu Wilson as concerned friend Linda who deserves the most praise. It shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock really, as she stole the show in the Ouija sequel/prequel Origin of Evil. So take note, horror directors: if you want a convincing kid lead in your picture, Lulu is as good as you’re going to get.
While it does get so much right, and should be praised for being a rare sequel which absolutely outshines its parent, Annabelle: Creation doesn’t come without its problems. Yes, the scare set pieces are fine and dandy, but its narrative originality makes for dull viewing when things aren’t going bump in the night. The all too early reveal of what’s terrorizing the girls is a huge let down too, both in character design and execution, and other than the two previously mentioned actresses the rest of the cast are your usual forgettable horror fodder.
The final ten minutes or so fantastically connect all the pieces up to already existing Conjuring installments in what is one of the most satisfying conclusions to a horror in recent memory, and cement Annabelle: Creation as an unanticipated success.
Better than its predecessor in every way
Strong performances from the two young leads
Effective, albeit predictable, scares
Brilliantly ties everything together in its conclusion
Safe in its narrative route, making for dull viewing when scares aren't occurring
Other than the two young girls, the rest of the cast are forgettable