Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
“The Conjuring” universe is slowly expanding, with “Annabelle: Creation” an ode to the glory days of dark horror. David F. Sandberg, who likely scared the pants off you with last summer's “Lights Out,” once again uses his eye for eerily creepy atmospheric tensions to produce a prequel that is far superior in quality than it’s predecessor. And in it’s own universe “Creation” stands on the heels of “The Conjuring” as one of the better horror stunners in recent memory. Despite a lackluster script that really doesn’t propel anything forward. But at least the movie is scary.
After all, it really shouldn’t be that hard to scare us with a doll that looks the equivalent of a demon. Which, for anyone familiar with the series, understands that titular doll in question is a conduit for a demonic presence. The doll made it’s debut in the 2013 shockfest “The Conjuring” and left many to wonder her origin and how she came to be. The spinoff “Annabelle” really never answered those questions, more just tiptoeing around that edge to scare tweens, and the end result proved less than satisfying. But these movies only cost about $1.50 to make so I don’t think box office grosses will be a problem for “Creation” especially considering it’s a lot more spooky than it’s cash grab inspired original.
The premise is a tad more inspired to, working backwards in time, this fourth film in producer James Wan’s fast-expanding “The Conjuring” franchise (there are two films slated for upcoming releases) takes place in the mid 50s, following a 12 years later prologue through which we discover the tragedy that inspired dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his bedridden wife (Miranda Otto) to invite half a dozen vulnerable orphans into their home. It’s a blessing in disguise for Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) who, along with the girls, are staying in the house. You think that Mr. Mullins strict instructions of staying out of certain areas would be enough to scare the girls away from such acts. Turns out, that’s all the invitation they need.
For Janice (Talitha Bateman) her life couldn’t get any harder. She’s cripple and struggles to get around on her crutches. Making her an easy target for her friends, and other “things” inside the house. As the plot must, Janice can’t stay away from the chatter in a nearby room, is something calling her? Should she really open that closet door? And, of course, she does. What lurks behind the door is the doll they call Annabelle, and Janice quickly becomes the stepping stone into the real world. Lights start flickering, footsteps moving swiftly around the house, and other quick jump scares that are so cheap, you can’t help but let yourself be immersed by it. Basically put: very bad and scary things start happening to these girls one by one and had Janice just stayed away, none of it would've happened. Damn it Janice!
Perhaps that’s how Sandberg knows where to manipulate his audience, with fine tuning and turning the normal hierarchy of “gotcha” cliches into morbid fun. We always yell at characters to shut that door behind them, or scream “why would you do that?” Such stupid thinking is only custom in horror films. And that’s really the only major downfall with “Creation.” Which now joins a very short list of horror sequels that are actually better than the first outing.
Their are some interesting set pieces to go along with the film too, including a stunt inside the barn with a scarecrow being brought to life (won’t reveal exactly what happens here, just know it’s incredibly well staged, and terrifying to boot). And a sequence outside a nearby well that leaves you quaking in your seat.
In my profession, I’ve usually discovered that prequels are hit or miss. They either are made for the sole purpose of making cash flow for studio executives or used to help revamp a series after a slew of disappointing entries. “Creation” falls in the latter, and Sandberg is the man to thank. Good for him in taking the initiative of turning a film that nobody wanted into something manageable. Expect loud screams and to stay awake at night wondering if that creepy doll is watching you in the corner. Have fun hiding under the covers after seeing this one. B+