Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: David F. Sandberg
Writer: Gary Dauberman
Producer: Peter Safran, James Wan
Stars: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee, Tayler Buck, Lou Lou Safran
Orphans living in a dollmaker’s home discover a secret within the walls that awakens a demonic presence.
“Annabelle” (review here) began with a bloody home invasion bang. Sequel/prequel “Annabelle: Creation” doesn’t exactly open on a whimper, though it does take its time getting the demonic doll action in gear.
It’s been twelve years since Sam and Esther Mullins lost their darling daughter in a tragic accident. Sam’s dollmaking business is no longer booming and Esther currently hides as a bedridden recluse in a shuttered backroom. So the couple opens their cobwebbed country house to an orphanage in search of a home, hoping fresh faces can bring light into their lives.
Sister Charlotte moves into the Mullins house with two teens, two tikes, and two best friends. Precocious little Linda and polio-stricken Janice are inseparable, although something is about to come between them when a malevolent presence is disturbed in the dead daughter’s closet.
Sam seems to be hiding a dark family secret, which relates to a devilish doll. A sinister spirit in search of a soul now has the girls in its sights. From boogeyman boos of shapes in the shadows to nightmarish visions and a murderous scarecrow, this evil will stop at nothing until it finds a new home too.
When these terrors finally come out in force, adrenaline at last accelerates. Getting there requires patience to outlast anticipation for some scares that never come. Once its stride steadies however, the movie does everything and then some to keep nails between teeth using classic creepshow style.
First with “Lights Out” (review here) and now with “Annabelle: Creation,” director David F. Sandberg proves in just two outings that he is a master at making feature-length movies out of very slim premises. Apparently influenced by the filmmaker who produced both projects, Sandberg also graduates with top honors from the James Wan School of Scary Movie Gags, where slick setups come first, and sensible plot falls a far distant second.
“Annabelle: Creation” calls more for showmanship than it does for storytelling. As such, it’s a pure paranormal possession fright flick for the Sour Patch Kids and soda set, where leaping from seats is the only essential for a good time. As for more substantial spooks, the script is so hollow you could hear a scream echoing infinitely off its walls.
Don’t look for a story anxious to connect logic dots. “Annabelle: Creation” is populated by the kind of horror movie folks who are tortoise slow on the uptake, being dumbly dismissive about dangers or slowly approaching doorknobs as though daring someone to shout, “don’t go in there!” Anthony LaPaglia, in a role that definitely doesn’t require a name, plays a part whose purpose is to deny all evidence of the obvious, even when he damn well knows better. The amount of absurdity “Annabelle: Creation” asks to get away with would be laughable, if it didn’t make up the difference with stylishly eerie entertainment.
What many remember best about “Annabelle” are singular scenes of the basement bassinet and door-charging ghost. Maybe it is fitting then, that “Annabelle: Creation” is a movie made up of memorable moments instead of a congruously coherent whole.
Adhering to the previously established rule that the Annabelle doll may never be seen moving, the filmmakers are forced to get creative with their creeps, which is exactly what they do. Sandberg’s hand digs into the same bag of gimmicks that gave “Lights Out” its juice, i.e. plenty of tricks of the light and careful camera positioning to capture a jolt just right.
Sandberg also gets a helping hand from his crew as well as his subconscious to turn every inch of the set into a playground for suspense. Production designer extraordinaire Jennifer Spence designed a dumb waiter that inspired a climactic sequence constructed on the spot. A dream Sandberg had during filming led to a signature scene involving a child’s popgun fired at a figure in darkness.
It says a lot about Gary Dauberman’s simplistic screenplay that portions of the movie were made without it. It also says a lot about a film’s strength of technique when scant story isn’t able to sink it.
“Annabelle: Creation” follows a formula, yet does so with fearsome flair. Put expectations on “popcorn” and its domino line of expertly crafted illusions culminates in a crash of devilishly crowd-pleasing shrieks. Just refrain from pulling back the curtain for fear of not finding anything else there.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 60