FIB Film Review: ‘Annabelle: Creation’

If you thought the trainwreck that was 2014’s Annabelle was the end of what seemed like an obviously failed franchise, think again! Turns out the Raggedy Ann doll’s alive and kicking in the newest chapter of the Conjuring universe (that’s right – James Wan’s boarding the hype train) – with a prequel to a prequel that was actually not as bad as most were expecting.

Image Credit: Movie Web

I’ll admit, my first reaction upon hearing of a second installment were repeated questions of “Why?! Who asked for this?!”, followed by the sure, smug feeling of its inevitable failure. As I sat there in the theatre brainstorming every possible snarky quip for a snide review, I’m glad to say that I was pleasantly proven wrong.

Audiences finally get a more fleshed-out background story on the Conjuring’s infamous haunted doll, as Annabelle: Creation reveals her 1950’s origins in a quiet, old house in the countryside. Dollmaker Samuel Mullins and his wife live a happy, quaint life with their young daughter, before losing her to a tragic car accident – and thus, our horror movie begins.

Why does she own this doll again? Image Credit: Gateway Film Center

Annabelle: Creation succeeds in its main priority: scaring audiences. The film is absolutely chock-full of thrills and horrifying visuals, not to mention the score composed by the demons of hell themselves. Gotta hand it to the sound engineer for creating an excellent horror atmosphere by amping up the movie terrors with equally (if not more) terrifying backing instrumentals. From the start of the movie all the way to its action-packed climax, the scenes are carefully directed to maintain a consistent air of creepiness, with eerie sound effects and slow camera pans to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Being a film that concentrated on a cast of mainly children, it is worthy to note that the two leading girls played their parts excellently, showing a convincing range of emotion from lighthearted moments of character bonding to scenes of ultimate fear. Lulu Wilson of last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil – another impressive horror film in recent years – is once again at the forefront of this scare fest with her equally talented co-star, Talitha Bateman. This definitely won’t be the last we’ll see of the two, as they carry the movie effectively – a rare feat in most horror films starring children (Alex Vincent from Child’s Play, looking at you).

Lulu Wilson from 2016’s “Ouija”, sporting my usual hangry face. Image Credit: Aceshowbiz

While it does bring the typical jump-scare from time to time – the movie, to its credit, avoids heavily relying on them. Director David F. Samberg (of the terrific Lights Out) instead places a larger focus on building up tension in scenes of distress or mystery, prolonging suspense that inevitably plays on the curious minds of their audience. This way, the film allows audiences to stew in quiet anxiety as they anticipate that shocking reveal – which works well, given that the payoff scares are truly rooted in hair-raising acts and imagery. This is something the original Annabelle film missed the mark with, committing the genre’s #1 sin by littering the entire movie with pointless jolts in every stereotypical way imaginable.

There is also a throwback to a certain iconic face in the last Conjuring film, which ultimately seals the deal in creating an entire cinematic universe starring all our evil little friends. While we have yet to see how that’ll play out, it was a nice, subtle easter egg to those who have watched the previous related films, and a creepily delivered one at that.

Yet,  the characters in the movie – as in most horror films – are dumb as rocks. Most of the time, at least – and played out with typical horror movie conveniences. From letting curiosity be the literal death of them to not immediately seizing the opportunity for safety when it comes (cue the exasperated groans of movie-goers), much of the horrific aftermath of character decisions are, to put it bluntly, self-inflicted. And while it may be argued that these are common incidents in horror films, they still don’t do the movie any favours, and instead showcase moments of lazy writing.

Miranda Otto in Annabelle: Creation. Image Credit: Culturageek

That said, the story itself is also nothing new. A demon attacks an unsuspecting family by using a goulish-looking doll as a conduit into the secular realm. (Here’s the kicker though – he could have literally possessed anything, but of course, it had to be the creepy-ass doll. Points to the Sir Succubus for showmanship, I guess.) But how many other times have we been fed a similar story, of an evil entity on the hunt for an innocent family’s souls? We’ll save you the Google search and name a memorable few: Insidious (2010), The Amityville Horror (2005), Paranormal Activity (2007), and the previously mentioned Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) – all of which essentially share the same concept, albeit a few twists in story here in and there.

Tried and tested plotlines. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDB.

The doll is no Chuckie – which may be a disappointment depending on your expectations – leaving the movie, at its core, to be another typical haunted house story. Fun, sure, but nothing ground-breaking. Fortunately, the actors do their best with what they’re given, and while having to put up with an occasionally cheesy quip here and there, we at least don’t have to put up with wooden acting.

All in all, Annabelle: Creation was a fun ride for what it was: a popcorn horror flick.You won’t be getting much psychological torment, nor room for intellectual analysis with this release – but if you’re looking for that rush of horror movie adrenaline on a weekend night with friends, this one’s entertaining enough.