ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to a prequel. It’s a prequel to a bad movie which was itself a prequel to a good movie. Huh? Let’s try that again.
ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to ANNABELLE (2014), a pretty bad movie, which was itself a prequel to THE CONJURING (2013), which was a pretty good movie. And where does that leave ANNABELLE: CREATION? Somewhere in between. It’s better than the awful ANNABELLE but not quite as good as THE CONJURING.
In terms of quality, it reminded me a lot of another prequel to a bad movie, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) which was a surprisingly very good prequel to the lowly OUIJA (2014). Heck, the two movies even share the same star, child actor Lulu Wilson.
ANNABELLE: CREATION takes place in the 1950s, as a group of girls from a Catholic orphanage and their sponsor Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into a new home, a farmhouse run by a retired doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his ailing bedridden wife Esther (Miranda Otto). The Mullins lost their own daughter twelve years earlier and see opening their home as an orphanage for young girls as a way to instill some life back into their world.
The girls are ecstatic to be living in a new and very large home, but Samuel tells them that there is one room in the house that is always locked and that room is off-limits (of course.) One of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman) enters the room anyway (of course, again) and immediately feels a strange presence there. She realizes it is the ghost of the Mullins’ deceased daughter Bee (Samara Lee). Janice also discovers the doll Annabelle hidden away in a closet, and she experiences a sense of dread. When Janice’s best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) joins her in the room, she too senses evil, and that’s because there’s a demon inside the Annabelle doll that wants people’s souls. Yikes!
The girls try to warn everyone in the house that there is something evil residing there with them, but by the time they do, it’s too late.
ANNABELLE: CREATION has a lot of good things going for it. The best part about it is that it delivers some pretty good scares and crafts some memorable horror scenes. Credit director David F. Sandberg for a job well done when it comes to the scare department. Of course, the Annabelle doll is creepy to begin with, but interestingly enough some of the better scare sequences don’t even involve her. There’s a creepy bit involving a scarecrow, a suspenseful scene on a staircase chairlift, and yet another one in a creaky old-fashioned dumb-waiter.
Then there’s the demon. One of the more interesting parts of ANNABELLE: CREATION is that it sheds more light on the background of the Annabelle doll. It seems that the instigator of all this evil surrounding Annabelle is a demon possessing the doll that wants people’s souls. We catch glimpses of this demon, and he’s pretty cool looking, which is no surprise since he’s played by Joseph Bishara who’s becoming quite the expert at this sort of thing. Bishara played a demon in both the INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING movies. He was most memorable in INSIDIOUS (2010) as the Lipstick-Face Demon.
There are lots of cool scares here, and that’s a good thing. What’s not so good is the pacing. There are a lot of slow parts in ANNABELLE: CREATION, lots of scenes where characters slowly move about in dark hallways, the kinds of scenes that drive me nuts in horror movies. These types of scenes don’t build suspense. They put audiences to sleep.
And the film is just begging for a more frenetic pace during its third act. While the movie’s conclusion isn’t bad at all, it never becomes that go-for-the-throat ending that makes audiences squirm and scream.
Director Sandberg does make full use of the creepy farmhouse interiors. Most of the film takes place in dark rooms and hallways, and the atmosphere is sufficiently spooky and haunting. The camera also gets in close, so much so you can almost smell the wood of the old hardwood floors.
Sandberg also directed LIGHTS OUT (2016), an okay horror movie that I wasn’t all that crazy about. I enjoyed ANNABELLE: CREATION more.
The screenplay by Gary Dauberman isn’t bad. It tells a decent story and does a good job with its characters, who come across as real and likable. I liked some of the reveals about Annabelle, and I enjoyed the characters, from the girls to Sister Charlotte to Samuel and Esther Mullins. The dialogue isn’t always fresh, and the story Esther Mullins tells about what happened to her daughter is full of dumb lines and clichés.
Dauberman also wrote ANNABELLE (2014), and the second time seems to have been the charm, as his screenplay here for ANNABELLE: CREATION is much better and tells a far more interesting story than the previous film. Dauberman also wrote the screenplay to the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s IT (2017), due out in September.
Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as Linda are both excellent. It was especially fun to watch them go through different levels of emotion. At first, they’re joyful about their new home, then there’s quiet unease and building fear, and then flat-out visceral horror as the threat becomes real. And once the demon becomes involved, there’s also some icy cold evil, which Bateman does well.
This is already the third horror movie for young Lulu Wilson, as she previously starred in OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2014) and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014).
The rest of the girls in the film are also very good.
I also enjoyed Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte. She makes the nun a real person and prevents her from becoming a cliché. Likewise, Anthony LaPaglia does the same for Samuel Mullins. At times, LaPaglia plays things a bit too mournful, as he just sort of stares gloomily at the camera, but for the most part he does a nice job bringing Samuel Mullins to life.
Miranda Otto as Esther Mullins is in the film less than LaPaglia, and as a result has less of an impact, and unfortunately towards the end of the film she does get some of the worst dialogue in the movie.
In a small role, Mark Bramhall has some fine moments as Father Massey, the priest who drives them to the Mullins’ farmhouse and who returns later in the movie. He also gets one of the more humorous lines in the film.
The story ends with a solid tie-in to ANNABELLE. The way screenwriter Gary Dauberman and director David F. Sandberg tie the two movies together is creative and satisfying.
I liked ANNABELLE: CREATION much better than I expected I would. It’s a decent horror movie that rises above the muck of inferior sequels and prequels, yet it’s not quite as good or at the level of an INSIDIOUS or THE CONJURING, those horror movies that are destined to be remembered for years to come, the ones you want to watch over and over again.
I guess that would be asking too much from a prequel to a prequel.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.