Light Spoilers for Annabelle: Creation, and other Conjuring films below!
Annabelle: Creation gets right what most horror films get wrong: it follows through on every set up that it puts in place during its somewhat insidious beginning. Every little creepy thing about the house where the film spends its runtime isn’t there without reason. As the film heightens its pace, it delivers — forcing its characters into the very unsettling environment for which it diligently laid the groundwork. Nonetheless, the film still falls victim to its own absurdities, in the sense that even if you believe in demons and the paranormal, the movie throws so much of them at you that it becomes a bit exhausting.
Dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) lose their daughter, Annabelle “Bee” Mullins (Samara Lee), in a car crash. Twelve years later, the two open their home to a nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), and several orphaned girls who are in her care. Of the girls, the film focuses on Janice, played by Talitha Bateman, a young girl with polio, and her best friend Linda, played by Lulu Wilson.
The film takes ample time letting the orphaned girls explore their new home. The Mullins’ estate is large, which makes for ample room for the film to set up its frights. While still in a fairly scare-free period, Annabelle: Creation places eerie, if not somewhat obvious, clues of what’s to come. Sister Charlotte’s room contains a dumbwaiter that eerily refuses to stay shut. An ominous scarecrow rests outside and gives the girls a good laugh — guaranteeing they won’t be laughing later.
The most obvious of these ominous clues lies naturally in Annabelle’s old room which is said to remain locked. The demonic spirit that possesses the terrifying doll is awakened by the presence of the young girls, and it pleads for Janice to ‘find’ it. Curiosity gets the better of her, and she proceeds to jimmy her way into the room. Annabelle’s room is rightfully creepy, but Janice unlocks something even more terrifying with a key she finds in a dollhouse. In an adjoining room sits the Annabelle doll, and (little does Janice know) she’s just freed it from its prison.
As the rest of the film plays out, the demon inside the doll terrorizes the young girls and the Mullins family. The film quickly and almost methodically runs back to the clues it left in place, having the girls face the scarecrow, get trapped in the dumbwaiter, etc. There are plenty of scares to be had in these moments, but some of them leave more to be desired. This is especially true of the scarecrow scene that seems added as pure filler rather than adding anything substantial to the plot.
Things also begin to get a bit too extraordinary, with the Annabelle doll seemingly teleporting around the property to wherever is convenient to get a scare. Unless there are multiple dolls, it seems unlikely that the doll would be able to get out of the bottom of a well, teleport around storeys of the house and beyond. In this regard, Annabelle: Creation isn’t quite as scary as it is preposterous.
The film also relies heavily on its soundtrack to induce its chills, although the score by Benjamin Wallfisch does its job effectively. As the film goes through the motions, its predictability becomes almost paint-by-numbers, with the telltale swell of discomforting music ensuring that something spooky is about to happen right before a discordant and cacophonous tone drowns all other sounds and gets hearts racing. It works, but the film would be better if it didn’t have such a crutch.
The cast’s acting is mostly superb, especially for the horror genre which tends to set the bar rather low for acting chops. Bateman is equally pitiable and terrifying as Janice, being a character that audiences will initially root for before regretting such a decision. Wilson is endearing as young Linda, who soon finds herself without her best friend and sister and must fight for her own survival. Linda is tougher than she looks, and one of the film’s only characters to actually fight back at the demon, as she smacks at it as it pursues her. You go, girl.
Sigman is wonderful in her role as Sister Charlotte, perfectly portraying her job as the girls’ caretaker and role model. The film does not focus on her (which it very well might have, given her overt religious beliefs,) but the scenes in which she is in are well done. Lee is another supporting character, despite being the titular original Annabelle. She’s nowhere near as terrifying as the doll (but how could she be?) Lee’s Annabelle is mischievous and grim, adding a mortifying sense of reality behind the entity that possesses the doll.
Surprisingly, LaPaglia is the only actor on the film’s somewhat intimate roster that is lackluster. His character carries an ominous presence throughout the film, which doesn’t appear to be intended. LaPaglia makes Mr. Mullins into a grief-stricken madman, although the film later reveals he just wanted contact with his dead daughter. Up until that’s revealed, LaPaglia’s character is undoubtedly sinister for no good reason. His confrontation with the demon shows that he didn’t have any allegiance to it, nor does the plot lead the viewer to believe so…just LaPaglia’s acting.
Overall, Annabelle: Creation is a film that manages to rouse up ample frights, and it’s a somewhat solid addition to the creepy doll’s film legacy. Its subtle nods to the previous films in its history are carefully placed and add further layers to the prior films. Can Annabelle: Creation touch The Conjuring or its sequel? Not a chance. Can it be an enjoyable film that’ll show you that even an evil doll can scare you beyond your wildest dreams? Easily.