ANNABELLE 2: CREATION (2017)
Directed by David F. Sandberg
Written by Gary Dauberman
Starring Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Grace Fulton, Samara Lee, Philippa Coulthard, Joseph Bishara, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, Adam Bartley, Lotta Losten, Brad Greenquist, Tayler Buck, Mark Bramhall, Lou Lou Safran
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Color me surprised that I actually liked ANNABELLE: CREATION quite a bit. Every time I think I’ve had my fill of James Wan’s universe of hauntings, demonic possessions, and things that go bump in the night, another film is released from Blumhouse that actually proves that—next to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s probably one of the tightest and most entertaining connected set of films you’re bound to see in theaters in recent years.
ANNABELLE: CREATION focuses on the makers of the evil doll that starred in ANNABELLE and THE CONJURING were the doll first appeared. Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) suffer a horrible loss when their bright and energetic daughter Bee (Samara Lee) dies suddenly. After a lengthy period of grief and recluse, the couple believe that it is time to have the pitter patter of little feet in the home again so they open up their doors to a group of orphans lead by the compassionate Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Among the six orphans who arrive at the home are Linda (OUIJA: THE ORIGIN OF EVIL’s Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman), two best friends who vow to be adopted together. One night, Janice is compelled to go into a room Mr. Mullins has deemed off limits and finds a creepy looking doll locked inside a closet wall papered with bible pages. Janice has no idea of the evil she has unleashed once the doll is free and all souls are on the table to be taken, consumed, and destroyed.
What I feel ANNABELLE: CREATION does well is actually put weight to the scares that have become a trademark to Blumhouse. In typical Blumhouse films, there’s about a scare every five minutes, be they hollow cat-jumping-through-a window scares or actual scary ones, punctuated by a sound burst that causes more of a fight-or-flight response than any kind of weighty scare that actually affects the viewer in a memorable way. So by the end of it, you’re kind of exhausted from jumping and laughing over and over again, but nothing sticks. ANNABELLE: CREATION doesn’t really do that. This film really does a great job of allowing us the space to get to know these characters, sympathize with them, and then when they are put into peril, the peril is real rather than a simple burst of sound for no reason. With this film, this feels like a blossoming maturity in the CONJURING Universe, as there are long moments here that allow the film to breath and settle before the scary starts. I was impressed by the patience of LIGHT’S OUT director David F. Sandberg who does a fantastic job of showing the scene, allowing the viewer to get to know the characters, form an investment in them, and really let the audience get comfy before things go full-on creepy.
This makes the scares all the more potent. By focusing on telling a story and instead of making teenie-boppers jump and giggle every few seconds, the film pays off after a rather scare free first half hour/forty minutes. Sandberg sets up quite a few scenes that pay off big time later as this house has all kinds of secret closets, dark corners, twisted dollmaking workshops, and a dingy shed containing a terrifying scarecrow. Because Sandberg introduces these creepy elements in the first half of the film, the scares really hit home in the latter half of the movie when we revisit the creepy dark places after the evil is unleashed.
ANNABELLE: CREATION is a fun film with solid character work from LaPaglia and Otto and some strong performances from its two younger stars (Wilson and Bateman). The film knows how to introduce creepy elements and give them a satisfying payoff later. It also manages to nestle quite nicely into the universe first seen in THE CONJURING and then expanded upon in the unappreciated ANNABELLE, all the while managing to connect rather seamlessly with THE CONJURING 2 and its upcoming spinoff THE NUN in a surprising and entertaining fashion. I don’t know what Wan is working towards with all of this. Maybe he’ll return to make his CONJURING style AVENGERS film mixing all of these movies together. There even seems to be some kind of INSIDIOUS tie-ins in ANNABELLE: CREATION as the demon looks an awful lot like the red-faced monster that haunted the nightmares in Wan’s breakout film. Whatever Wan has planned with this series, ANNABELLE: CREATION is a surprisingly high-quality, compelling, and potent popcorn scare flick. We don’t get enough of those these days, so when it happens we should celebrate it.