Do we need a fourth installment in The Conjuring film series? More to the point, do we need another origin story for the evil doll, Annabelle, after 2014’s Annabelle? And can directed David F. Sandberg, whose Lights Out showed such promise only to ultimately be a failure, helm a feature that’s true to the quality James Wan brought to the original films? And finally, just how much should you expect from a prequel to the sequel to a spin-off?
Turns out that I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I honestly expected nothing, given how much disdain I had for Lights Out, a film that made me want to leave the theater from its opening story beats. Instead, Annabelle: Creation takes plenty of time building its roller coaster structure, introducing us to Sister Charlotte and her pack of orphaned girls. They come to the farm of Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia, Empire Records) and Esther Mullins with nowhere else to go.
We gradually get the backstory of how the Mullins tragically lost their daughter, Annabelle, and are trying to atone for some past sins by allowing the girls access to their home. At the films heart is the relationship between Linda (Lulu Wilson, Deliver Us from Evil and Ouija: Origin of Evil) and polio sufferer Janice (Talitha Bateman, the older sister of Lights Out star Gabriel Bateman).
Sandberg claims that he was influenced by The Haunting and The Shining for this film, dropping the meticulous planning and storyboards that had been such a part of his style. I can point to several other prime influences — the dumb waiter scare at the end references the basement elevator sequence in Halloween II, the hiding in the closet has the primal feel of the original Halloween and the gory treatment of Mrs. Mullins near the end looks like the crucified Schweick of Fulci’s The Beyond (one could also argue that her ceramic adorned visage at once references the Annabelle doll features and 2016’s The Boy). I also saw a similarity to the glowing, possessed eyes of Janice with Canadian Exorcist ripoff Cathy’s Curse (look, we could just say the film ripped off The Exorcist, too, but the image of Cathy on the cover of Severin’s recent Blu-Ray release is more fresh in my brain).
The last thirty some odd minutes of this film use all of that previously built roller coaster track to not give up — at all. I haven’t seen a film so intent on providing thrills and non-stop scares in some time. We saw the film in a raucous, teen-filled opening night, packed with kids who weren’t afraid to scream as loudly as they could. The film rewarded them with some genuine scares, such as when Annabelle continually grows until she becomes inhuman.
Along the way, there is some universe building, with one scene that almost feels like a DVD extra where Sister Charlotte and Samuel discuss a photo of her with some Romanian nuns. Valek, the evil nun from the other Conjuring films makes a brief appearance within the image. And the end of the film provides a neat bow, showing how all of these events bring the Annabelle doll and Janice back together for the opening murder in Annabelle (inverting the original films setting, a neat trick).
Becca liked the first one better, but still thought that this was a very decent movie. I left the film buzzed, excited to have taken a summer popcorn thrill ride. There are some great touches (there was some lighting near the end that I felt could have used a softer color palette but I’m always going to approach horror lighting from the Bava school), such as the moment two girls are hiding under a blanket while a ghost draws near, continually ringing a bell, rendering their attempts to scare one another moot.
Modern horror ends up a homogenized pile of muck for the most part, but for my money, you can’t helped but be entertained by this film. Well done.