The Conjuring is one of the most bone-chilling, yet brilliant, horror films of the decade and was arguably the strongest of 2013. Its massive success spawned a spinoff that focused on the “origins” of the demonic, possessed doll known as Annabelle. The movie itself, which owns the title of Annabelle, unfortunately fell flat and nearly reversed everything that made The Conjuring so special. The characters were dull and forgettable, the doll itself was inefficiently used and the scares were cheap due to a lack of narrative drive. So why is Annabelle getting a sequel?
Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) stepped in to replace John R. Leonetti (thank goodness) and announced this sequel to actually serve as a prequel. To almost right the wrongs that Leonetti made, Sandberg was able to take Gary Dauberman’s script and truly create a clever successor. Annabelle: Creation is an intense thrill-ride that’s full of tension and terrifying imagery that will surely haunt your dreams for the rest of the summer. This is due to excellent cinematography work from Maxime Alexandre and superb performances from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson.
If you were on the fence about this movie due to the poor performance of its predecessor, fear not. Sandberg has given Annabelle her proper origin story.
This film’s story structure is nothing too complex. It’s simply your basic haunted house tale that takes a sinister turn near its final act. Taking place in 1957, a group of orphan children travel to a house that is seemingly in the middle of nowhere. This house, which belongs to Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto), would serve as these children’s new home as each orphan await future adoption. Under the care of Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), the Mullins willingly open up and share their home in hopes of relinquishing the darkness that has been glossing over them since the tragic loss of their daughter 12 years ago.
There’s something strange about the house, however. Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson), the youngest of the orphans, soon discover the true horrors of the house when Janice (who suffers from polio and walks with a leg brace and a crutch) enters a room that was deemed “off limits” by Samuel. Once inside, she discovers a doll locked away in a closet covered with pages from the Bible. It’s at this moment when things go from bad to malicious and the true nature of Annabelle is unleashed.
Much like James Wan’s two Conjuring films, one of the strongest elements that drives Creation‘s narrative is through performance. As mentioned earlier, Bateman and Wilson carry the emotional weight. Their smooth chemistry makes the journey engaging and worthwhile. Their sister-like bond that’s established early on in the film carries throughout its duration, giving them plenty of opportunities to get you invested. You’re not going to want anything harmful to happen to these kids, making the impending terror that looms around every corner hit much more harder than it should. It’s one of the most important factors that has to connect in order to make the terror work and Sandberg utilizes all of the toys in his toolbox to do so.
Another one of the most impressive feats that the Conjuring films have achieved thus far comes from the utilization of its R-rating. The terror doesn’t come from the blood and gore, it comes from the cinematography and storytelling which leads into the imagery that causes the genuine fear. Sandberg, much like Wan, utilizes sound, practicality and lighting to build tension. One sequence in particular happens in broad daylight and it serves as one of the more disturbing scenes in the entire film. In it, Sandberg uses the sunlight as a prop to create this illusion that makes us as viewers feel that there’s something evil lurking in the background, heightening the intensity for whatever happens next. He knows that our imagination is capable of much worse than what he could show and that idea is what makes this movie feel like a thrill-ride.
When Sandberg isn’t manipulating your mind to trick you into seeing something that’s not really there, he’s hitting you with some frightening imagery. Once the demon manifests itself, it’s truly unsettling to watch. Whether if it’s twisting and awkwardly growing limbs or using the doll as a conduit, you’ll know that once evil presents itself, it is a beast that cannot be stopped. This isn’t a movie over bloated with CGI, nor did it need to be, but the few images that are definitely serve its purpose and will cause you to occasionally look over your shoulder once the movie’s over.
Much like the sunlight from outside, darkness from the inside of the house is essential to what happens while everyone (besides Janice) is asleep. The ringing, creaking and footsteps in the darkness presented could be coming from either inches or feet away from the camera; you don’t know. This builds a sense of uneasiness that will put you on the edge of your seat. This movie is built around what you can’t see. The darkness is both the promise of something frightening and a clever bit of misdirection.
The horror cliché’s are something that even Sandberg can’t escape, and unfortunately the first 40 minutes or so contain most of them. Once you get familiar with the characters, most notably the children, you start to notice a formula between night and day. Nightfall often represented a time frame where somebody ventured off to investigate a creak or ring, only to get let down with a loud noise or moving door. Daylight often represented calmness and a chance for you to breathe, knowing that evil was at rest for the moment. Although characters are being developed at this time, a part of you will want them to speed the process along because you know nothing will happen until that sun goes down. It’s not something that holds the movie back, but it is noticeable. The events gradually get scarier and more clever as time passes, and as mentioned earlier, a sequence that takes place during the middle of the afternoon hits you and lets you know that evil no longer has a sleep schedule. It’s open season for everybody at any given time from that point on.
If you are a horror junkie, this is the movie you’ve been waiting to see to fill your sadistic horror needs. It’s a perfect movie to watch with a crowd so make sure you rush out to your theater as soon as possible. Cinematic universe’s seem to be the trend in Hollywood and this Conjuring franchise seems to be headed in that direction. With The Nun (2018) in development, a third Conjuring film in pre-development, and a possible Crooked-Man spinoff up in the air, it’s going to be interesting to see how these filmmakers connect everything. Annabelle was a huge misstep in 2014, but Creation cleans up the mess and reassures you that this cinematic universe has promise.
There is a post-credits nugget at the end of this movie so make sure you stick around to get the complete experience.
FINAL SCORE: B+