David F. Sandberg directs ANNABELLE: CREATION, the prequel to 2014’s ANNABELLE and the fourth movie in THE CONJURING series. This 2017 horror flick is all about the origin of that creepy titular doll, taking a mid-century period piece motif to drag out a haunting story.
The screenplay by Gary Dauberman is similar in construct to ANNABELLE in that it weaves in the manipulation of other fears to drill down the demonic in the doll. The movie turns through a few efficient setups in order to pin down its balance of orphans, parents experiencing the loss of a child, isolation, and mysterious defacement.
Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a dollmaker whose seven-year-old daughter is killed in a tragic accident. He and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) subsequently open their home to a group of orphans after the closing of their institution. They move into the Mullins’ place with Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and a whole lot of weird stuff starts happening.
Naturally that weird stuff is centred on one of the dolls created by Samuel and the ethereal presence of his departed daughter. There are many set pieces in which orphans are told not to go into a certain room but go anyway, leading to terrifying events.
ANNABELLE: CREATION works well as a temperamental, almost Gothic piece of horror. There are strange locations and echoing spots throughout the Mullins’ home and things aren’t made any less uncanny by the disfigured appearance of Esther, bedridden and kept behind a shroud. She rings a little bell when she needs assistance, so you can imagine that becomes a factor.
The orphans, six girls, are generally the stars of ANNABELLE: CREATION – apart from that damn doll – and all the actors are game at playing in shadows and getting in trouble. Janice (Talitha Bateman) is the most vulnerable, having been incapacitated by polio. An early scene sets up her internment, as she’s dependent on an apparatus to help her get up and down the stairs.
Groundwork is laid throughout ANNABELLE: CREATION as you can already tell; the bell, the stair chair, a smattering of cute notes between father and daughter in an early game of hide-and-seek are all reprimands of coming cinematic horror. And these are played out well enough, winding from the obvious scares to more agitating, despairing minutes.
ANNABELLE: CREATION is superior to ANNABELLE, but it’s hard to say that it’s vastly different. The intent is the same, only the execution is more inspiring. But the conclusion rushes forward, the pratfalls are nearly identical and this movie hits the same fanatical slights as ever. That, yet again, leaves a disappointing aftertaste, notwithstanding the lavish blend of horror, mood and tension beforehand.