WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2017)

 

Director: David F. Sandberg

 

Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto

It’s just a doll…isn’t…isn’t it?

 

The creepy ass doll returns in the second Conjuring prequel (but still a sequel to a prequel) and it only had one job – be better than the original Annabelle movie. Thankfully it successfully manages this extremely undemanding task and manages to deliver a pretty damn good movie at the same time. Helmed by Lights Out director David F. Sandberg, Annabelle: Creation is snatched from being pretty unnecessary to becoming a solid entry into the so-called Conjuringverse.

In 1943, expert dollmaker Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) puts the finishing touches to the first of his limited edition number of creepy-looking dolls, and with offers coming in already, it’s likely the money will roll right in. Returning one morning from church with his wife Esther (Otto) and daughter Annabelle/”Bee” (Samara Lee), tragedy strikes as Bee is run over and killed by a passing car in error as Samuel performed repairs to his car. As their anguish mounts, the couple decide to pray to any spirit listening to allow them to be visited by their daughter – what could go wrong? Twelve years later, the grieving couple open their home to orphan children and Sister Charlotte (Sigman) after the local orphanage closes. Samuel is a brooding shell of his former self and Esther is now bed-ridden and reclusive. After checking out the large house full of mod cons unknown to the girls, they are warned to stay away from the locked bedroom upstairs.

 

Part of the group of children are polio sufferer Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson), two young girls who have a close sister-like friendship, and are fortunate enough to share a bedroom – unfortunately one next to the forbidden room. During the first night, Janice is lured into Bee’s bedroom – which is now unlocked – by a series of handwritten notes and whilst playing with a large dolls house finds a key for a closet. Not just any closet, this has scriptures glued to the door and a crucifix adorning it. Still, worth a look eh? Opening the door, as the light shines in, a dolls face smirks back at her inanimately. Unknowingly, Janice has released the evil within and their safe house has now become their worst nightmare.

 

That creepy ass doll’s face is lit similar to Pazuzu’s flashing appearances in The Exorcist.

 

Crammed full of horror conventions and clichés, Annabelle: Creation succeeds with its own self-awareness. As an audience, we know when the scares are coming, Sandberg knows that we know this, but still is clever with how scenes are framed and lit. There’s always a part of the frame blacked out in the shadows or a corridor for us to focus on and let our eyes wander. When that creepy ass doll is lurking in the background, our eyes are immediately drawn to it and thus not picking up on what is happening in front of us, a simple trick to allow the audience to let their guard down – it’s simple yet effective. One of the better examples is a scene where two girls (played by Grace Fulton and Philippa Coulthard) are creating horror stories whilst kneeling under a white sheet – with only a torch for lighting. Now, we know from a mile off something is coming to torment them, the spacing between them is evident of this and the framing around them also, but the clever use of sound and lighting allows the scene to grow. This is something Sandberg gets just right, the use of sound and lighting in each scene (there’s a great foreshadowing shot of a photograph of Bee and the doll where Bee is in the light, but the doll is in the shade)

 

As with all horror movies, character motivations are always a stretch. If a doll moves in the small dark room I’m in, I’m hauling myself out of there – but then there would be no movie. However, when death and demons are rampaging around and the advice given – by an Agent of God – is to go to bed and wait for morning?? What the?! I’ll take my chances sleeping on the road. With a refreshing poke, one moment in the movie casts light on moments like this – as something evil is happening, Sister Charlotte stands gawking and questions, “What’s that?” and it’s down to Linda – a young girl – to inform her, “Who cares?? RUN!” That’s the spirit.

 

As an ensemble, the cast works well, though the majority are undercooked or simply furniture. The two young girls, Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, are great and Stephanie Sigman brings a warm, maternal quality to a role that could have been wasted otherwise. Miranda Otto is sorely underused and LaPaglia was too gloomy I thought, all things considered, and his behaviours didn’t reflect that of someone who would willingly invite children into his home. It’s nice to see these movies can survive without the Warrens though.

 

There are some good moments of tension and atmosphere throughout, and like the first Conjuring movie, it isn’t reliant of jump scares at every turn. There are enough of those, but thankfully not overdone. The music, whilst well scored and reminiscent of The Conjuring, was overused in terms of setting up a scene however. There are some fun shocks and surprises throughout, and mercifully not an abundance of CGI at work - just don’t expect gratuitous gore, though one scene is pretty brutal.

 

Being part of the new Conjuringverse, there are tie in’s hidden through the movie and a few post-credits scenes to watch out for. The conclusion sets us up perfectly for the events of the first Annabelle movie and is executed well. A satisfying end to a horror movie!

 

Annabelle: Creation is a welcome return after the disappointments of Annabelle and The Conjuring 2, and whilst not without its flaws and clichés, it’s a good, solid horror flick.

 

Now, where did that doll get to?

August 22nd 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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