It’s the prequel to the spin-off of The Conjuring that nobody wanted or asked for. But, believe it or not, fate has once again conspired to ensure I’m utterly wrong in everything I say, because it turns out Annabelle: Creation is pretty good.
I’m as surprised as you are. I don’t believe in ghosts or demons or any other such mumbo-jumbo, but it does seem that whatever I say on our monthly preview shows has the power to warp the fabric of reality such that I’m always wrong, regardless of how drastically the laws and logic of our known universe must contort themselves to make that possible. I haven’t quite established if this is a gift or a curse yet, but I guess I’ll know for sure when I take some time in the next episode to predict that I definitely won’t win the lottery.
In the meantime, yeah, Annabelle: Creation is alright.
What’s it about?
The appropriately smug answer is that it’s about the titular doll; a big porcelain monstrosity that, in the wordless opening sequence, a toymaker (Anthony LaPaglia) carefully assembles in his workshop. This I found rather charming, especially in retrospect, because Annabelle: Creation is a similar work of careful craftsmanship, bolted together by a talented filmmaker (David F. Sandberg, of Lights Out) in complete defiance of the fact that the finished product only appeals to weird people.
But the movie is less about the doll and much more about upselling the already tenuous connection to producer James Wan’s ever-expanding demonic mythos. I’m still not convinced any of these movies have a reason to exist beyond emptying your pockets and lining someone else’s, but at least now I can safely say that I know how the Annabelle doll found its way into the world. My life isn’t any better for knowing that, but my life entailed watching and reviewing The Emoji Movie, so it’s probably a lost cause anyway.
Well, you said it. But what’s it actually about?
Oh, yeah. Well, the toymaker has a daughter (Samara Lee) who gets mangled by a passing car, so a decade later he and his creepily bedridden wife (Miranda Otto) open up their dusty old home to Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and six young girls left homeless by the closing of their orphanage. One of them, Janice (Talitha Bateman), has been crippled by polio and wears a leg brace, which of course makes her the focal character for much of the movie. Horror loves protagonists not to be able-bodied, and the set doesn’t include an old-fashioned stair-lift for nothing, let me tell you.
Anyway, the house is naturally a warren of secret passageways and rooms that must never be entered under any circumstances, the doll we saw being built at the beginning may or may not have a demon inside it (spoiler alert: it definitely does) and lots of weird **** happens for increasingly illogical reasons. This is a horror film, after all.
But it’s good?
It is. One of the smartest things the movie does is quickly establish that the doll itself isn’t going to actually do anything beyond occasionally turning its head or repositioning itself off-screen. Instead, we understand that wherever the doll happens to be, all sorts of otherworldly happenings can and will occur in the general vicinity. And while that’s illogical, it’s a mightily effective horror-movie concept, because it means that there’s no need for any kind of coherent logic to keep Annabelle’s powers in check; the film can be about ghosts and demons and murders and any other go-to genre stuff from one scene to the next without ever becoming predictable.
Of course, the movie is predictable, at least in the broad strokes of its plot and in how it spares a little time for hilariously out-of-place franchise-building legwork, but Sandberg has a real knack for effectively constructing scares and subverting the audience’s expectations. There’s a particular twist that occurs around the midpoint which completely redefines the characters for reasons I won’t spoil, and that struck me as a bolder filmmaking choice than you’d ordinarily see in a movie like this.
Okay, so what isn’t good?
It takes longer to get there than usual thanks to most of the cast being nosey young girls (played by actors of wildly uneven ability), but eventually, as all horror movies must, we reach a point where staying in the creepy rural mansion in the middle of nowhere is a profoundly bad idea, but nobody goes anywhere because Act 3 needs to happen. That’s the genre for you, I guess, but it’s noticeable here because the rest of the movie is so full of spooky flourishes and unexpectedly kinetic shocks. Even the bits that feel second-hand – scarecrows and dark wells and such – are executed so competently that you don’t even mind.
Yeah, sure. Even decent horror is difficult to come by, so take what you can get.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.