Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, and Miranda Otto
Have major movie studios finally figured out the decades-long riddle of making good horror movies? With last year’s Ouija prequel-sequel and now this year’s Annabelle prequel-sequel, it certainly seems that they have.
Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to 2014’s Conjuring spinoff, Annabelle set 12 years before the events of the latter film. After a doll maker and his wife those their daughter in a car accident years prior, they open their pastoral home as a shelter for a group of orphaned girls and their supervising nun. When the orphans arrive at the rural home, they are amazed by its size and luxuriousness, however, the young, crippled orphan, Janice is attracted to a mysterious room in the house, belonging to the late doll maker’s daughter, whom sternly tells her not to go in there. On the first night, Janice sneaks into the forbidden bedroom and unwittingly unlocks a hidden room imprisoning the familiar Annabelle doll. And just like that, the demonic doll is again free to rein terror the girls in usual Conjuring fashion.
Coming off the 2014 Annabelle, Creation has no right being as good as it is and that’s largely due to indie-horror director David F. Sandberg, who previously directed 2016’s Lights Out, based off of his brilliant short film of the same name. Sandberg brings a real nuance to what could have easily been the lazy cash-grab the first Annabelle film was. He expertly stages each horror set piece without over-reliance on jump scares and instead utilizes ambient dread and suspense to build effective scares. Being apart of the Conjuring cinematic universe, Creation maintains its unique horror style and adopts a similar narrative structure, however, it builds upon what the previous films have done by upping the ante of the scares. The Annabelle demon and the energy of the film itself, is noticeably more aggressive than it was in previous films: it actively tries to hurt the stranded characters rather than just opening and closing doors. However, when we get to the end of film’s final act, the momentum of the film kind of tapers out before reaching a satisfying crescendo, but that’s easily forgiven due to the all that the film did well earlier on.
Those who saw Ouija: Origin of Evil will notice that both that film and Creation share child actress Lulu Wilson as lead characters. In this film, Wilson does a great job of selling the close bond between her character Linda and Janice (Talitha Bateman) throughout the film. It’s the relationship between Linda and Janice that gives the film dramatic weight and makes you feel even more afraid for them when the spooky stuff begins happening. I have to say as of late, studio horror films like Ouija 2, Annabelle: Creation, Light’s Out, and the Conjuring films have consistently incorporated compelling drama and fleshed-out characters in such a way that one could even see those non-horror elements holding up their own stories. And I think I can attribute that to the studios’ decision to allow independent horror filmmakers to helm these films and bring their creativity and genre-awareness to them.
Say what you will about the cinematic universe craze, but this Conjuring-universe is not only a refreshing addition to the horror genre but also signals a major victory for passionate, independent filmmakers breaking into the mainstream and guiding the future of major studio filmmaking.
Horror Scale: 9.0/10