“Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to 2014’s “Annabelle” which was a prequel to “The Conjuring” films. Follow me so far? Actually it doesn’t get any more complicated than that, but you get the picture. This little horror series has unexpectedly blossomed into a broad and rather lucrative franchise and all with fairly meager budgets.
I’m a big fan of the two “Conjuring” films but the first “Annabelle” installment left me disappointed. Despite its potential, the film sometimes felt cheap and lacked any hint of originality. But $260 million at the box office against a $6.5 million budget all but guarantees another movie and it comes in the form of “Annabelle: Creation”. And let’s get this out of the way – it’s considerably better that its predecessor.
The story begins in 1943. A rural dollmaker named Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) enjoy a good quiet life with their 7-year old daughter Annabelle in their beautiful remote farmhouse. But their happiness is shattered when a terrible tragedy strikes and young Annabelle is killed.
Now jump ahead twelve years. Still mourning the loss of their daughter, Samuel and Esther open their home to six girls who have been left homeless after their orphanage was closed. Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the girls move in with the somber, moody Samuel and a sick, bed-ridden Esther who is mysteriously kept isolated in her bedroom. We quickly learn things aren’t quite the same in this once loving, idyllic home.
There is a lot of familiar material here – a spooky house, slamming doors, unreliable electricity, creepy kids, and some really bad decision-making. Yet despite its truckload of horror movie cliches and gadgetry, director David Sandberg’s craftsmanship makes it work. You can’t help but notice things you’ve seen in countless other films and you’ll find yourself predicting the outcomes of several scary scenes. Sandberg seems aware of all that and instead concentrates on the utilization and presentation of those well known devices. He knows what he is doing and the results are effective.
Like the other movies in this franchise, “Creation” takes its time getting started. The early emphasis is on the characters but slowly and methodically Sandberg ratchets up the tension. The first “Annabelle” film bogged down it its attempted character building and never had enough depth to get through to the end. “Creation” doesn’t make that mistake. The characters are well presented (not profoundly well but enough to keep us invested) which makes the terror they face a much easier sell.
Personally I found “Annabelle: Creation” to be a nice little surprise. Yes, it’s a bit goofy and requires its audience to simply go with what they are seeing. But let’s be honest, can’t we say the same for practically every horror movie? The difference here is that it is made with plenty of cinematic smarts. Sure, it will still feel very familiar, but I appreciated the practical effects over digital, the keen eye for tension-building, and the patient buildup. And the ending, lets just say it really worked for me. By the way, stick around through the credits. If the movie’s $300 million box office take didn’t convince you of a sequel the end-credits scene just might.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS