Universal may have hit a stumbling block with The Mummy, in what they had hoped would be the first chapter in a shared horror universe, but that is certainly not the case over at New Line Cinema where they have released four successful horror movies in The Conjuring/Annabelle series. Even the critically panned Annabelle made over $250 million dollars worldwide, which is pretty good when you consider its budget was just over $6 million, and with each film linking and teasing further installments it’s almost become a license to print money. So today let us take a hard but fair look at the fourth installment.
Rarely do prequels perform well in comparison to the original but for some reason that isn’t the case with this new crop of horror films; the 2014 horror dud Ouija was followed up by the excellent Ouija: Origin of Evil and now we have Annabelle: Creation that is a prequel and superior follow-up to the 2014 Conjuring spin-off Annabelle. It’s like we are living in some kind of Topsy-turvy world. This prequel jumps back to 1943 where we meet dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), his loving wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and their adorable daughter Bee (Samara Lee); they were a happy family with Samuel being a good father and devoted husband, as well as being an admired toymaker, but because this is a horror move we know that can’t last for long and before you can say “Speed Bump” little Bee is killed in a tragic automobile accident. The movie then jumps a head twelve years as we are introduced to Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and a group of orphan girls bussing in to stay at the Mullins’ house because their orphanage was closed. The reasoning behind the Mullins’ kind offer is tad on the moronic side but as it’s a bit of a spoiler I won’t get into that here. It’s not too long before one of the girls is finding a locked room suddenly open, a hidden key in a dollhouse that reveals a secret closet, and a creepy-ass doll sitting inside.
Note: Director David F. Sandberg softened the doll’s features to make it more believable as a child’s toy, but he clearly failed as it still looks creepy as hell.
Annabelle: Creation does provide excellent spooky atmosphere and the prerequisite number of jump scares; the house is sprawling and full of shadows, there is a dumbwaiter for our heroes to hide in, a masked woman that possibly haunts the halls, we even have creepy music being played on a child’s record player to provide the proper amount of goosebumps, and we also get the ever popular eerie figure seen standing in the background or caught as a fleeting glimpse. Everything an audience could want from a scary movie and more. In fact the modern horror formula solidified by Jams Wan, that he kickstarted back in 2010 with his film Insidious, is now being used by a variety of directors to lesser degrees of success, and with Annabelle: Creation you can almost predict the jump scares and spooky moments with a stopwatch.
Now this is not to say that Annabelle: Creation is a bad movie, quite the contrary as all those techniques are effective regardless of how many times they’ve been used before, but don’t go into this movie expecting to see anything revolutionary. What does make this movie stand out is the performances by the young actresses who play two of orphan girls; Janice (Talitha Eliana Bateman) crippled by polio and forced to use a crutch and a leg brace, and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) who is more sensible when encountering creepy dolls in the dark. These two actresses steal the movie away from all the ghosts and goblins.
One of my pet peeves with horror movies is that when rules are established they are often broken just because the plot requires it, but in the case of The Conjuring and Annabelle movies the filmmakers do their best to not give much in the way of rules so as avoid this problem. Unfortunately this can cause even more problems as it leaves the audience unclear as to what the evil forces can and cannot do. In these movies demonic forces try and possess our characters in a variety of ways but just what steps the demons must follow is never made clear, nor is what powers the demons have in the mortal world. This causes problems when it comes to discerning what kind of threat the demons provide and how our protagonist can stop them. If a demon can jump a small child and instantly possess her or if it can rip an adult into two gory halves without much effort just how are we to believe anyone stands a chance?
In this movie girls will scream but for some reason no one in the house can hear them, that is until at other times when a scream is heard and people come rushing to see what’s going on, and it’s this kind of inconsistency that makes for a troubling story. Do the demons have power to localize audio or are we to believe the other residents in the home very heavy sleepers? An even worse example of this type of inconsistency is the ability for the demonic force to open doors and dumbwaiters at will but then for some reason when a major character slams and locks a door the demon is left outside banging futilely. Is the demon actually thwarted by the locked door or is it just fucking around with them so that it can jump out at them later? The doll can clearly teleport at well so why can’t the demon? It’s these kind of questions that the filmmakers hope you are too engrossed in the terror of the situation to notice, and to be fair most of the time they’re probably right. Annabelle: Creation is full of people running up and down corridors with things chasing them, or crawling and hiding when possible, and I’d have been just a little happier if I knew they had a chance.
If the evil in your movie can kill at will one has a hard time believing a plucky little girl could stand a chance but that is what is expected of us when viewing Annabelle: Creation, and during the film’s final act our suspension of disbelief is stretched well past the breaking point as the scenery practically explodes around our heroes. That all said the film does succeed at being scary, which is really the film’s sole job and by this criteria it clearly succeeded, but I wish they’d played a littler fairer with the “rules” and maybe spent less time establishing further chapters and gave us more backstory on the evil forces that are put in play.