The past few years have been amazing for horror films and part of that success is the rise of the James Wan led “Conjuring” film series. The latest entry in the franchise, which chronicles the cases of famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, is the second film focusing purely on one of the couple’s most famous findings, the Annabelle doll. “Annabelle: Creation” may be only the fourth film in this anthology, but it’s one of the best so far, serving as a return to form for the franchise and, in terms of sheer terror and fright, the scariest horror film to hit the big screen so far in 2017 serving as a long-awaited effective melding of horror styles that showcases some of the best aspect of the genre as a whole.
“Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel of a prequel, setting up and leading into the first “Annabelle” film which in itself was a prequel to “The Conjuring”. The film follows a group of orphan girls and their caretaker as they take up residence in a married couples home. That couple just happens to be the parents of a young girl named Annabelle who perished in a tragic accident 12 years earlier. The father, Samuel Mullins who is played by Anthony LaPaglis, is depicted as the creator of the conduit doll that becomes possessed by a demon and inherits his daughter’s name. After the young orphan girls, who include disabled youngster Janice, played by Talitha Bateman, and her best friends Linda, played by Lulu Wilson, spend a few days in the home, Janice and Linda specifically begin to experience paranormal events, eventually coming across the cursed doll setting into motion a series of horrific hauntings that put the lives of everyone in the home in danger and threaten to release a tremendous evil.
“Annabelle: Creation” turns out to be a legitimately scary feature, and one that brings the “Conjuring” series back to its prime after the first “Annabelle” film and “The Conjuring 2” proved to be small steps backwards. “Annabelle: Creation” strikes fear in many ways, all of which are effective and impressive. Obviously the titular doll itself is quite a frightening figure to behold, but it’s the buildup, setup, and execution that shine in this film combining all the best aspects of a well crafted horror tale. “Annabelle: Creation” melds together psychological horror, jump scares, atmosphere, and well designed and thought out horror scenes to create quite the experience, made all the more uncomfortable and effective by the dark lighting of whatever theater you decide to experience it in.
What really stood out to me about “Annabelle: Creation” in terms of its structure is that the filmmakers decided to lean on a combination of the new and the old in providing the best horror can bring to the big screen. At times “Annabelle: Creation” is admittedly a bit ridiculous and convoluted, but it’s easy to ignore this because the frights are effective and the set design and overall setting are just perfectly built for the action and horrors yet to come. Even when you can predict what’s going to play out something catches you by surprise. It’s rare that I, personally as a moviegoer, find myself in any horror film these days where I legitimately jump at moments meant to bring terror and fear to the hearts of the viewer, but while watching this film I was tense, I even covered my eyes once or twice, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the horror experience through fear and anticipation alone for the first time in a long time. “Annabelle: Creation”, as a horror film, is the whole package and depends on a lot of different factors to make it so making for a multilayered experience that goes way beyond the movie’s relatively simple premise. As I said, it’s impressive.
Equally impressive is the acting, which is pretty top notch for a horror project I must say even when compared to the more sophisticated works that have graced the genre in recent years. Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the later of which has become quite the young scream queen in her early acting career, both shine as young orphan best friends who are the centerpieces of the hauntings in the home as Annabelle seems to take quite the liking to these two in particular. The two young actresses are amazing leading ladies, especially as their larger roles in the overall plot play out, the details of which I won’t go into here to avoid spoilers. They help drive this film and even completely overshadow their elder fellow actors and actresses in the cast. They’re not the only ones who help pump this film with greatness however. The other orphans are played by the likes of older actresses Philippa Coulthard, Grace Fulton, Lou Lou Safran, and Tayler Buck while Annabelle herself is played by Samara Lee. While not all of these actresses standout, most of them do for their ability to convey, or in Lee’s case bring about, terror as they too become involved in the horrors that play out over the course of the film. The acting is committed, convincing, and, to put it simply, just plain impressive from such a young cast with a lot to live up to.
It’s the only cast that actually fails in this film. Three adults actors play a part in Annabelle’s origin tale, the young Annabelle’s parents who are played by Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglis (both shown above), and Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte, a nun who is the caretaker of the orphans. While these actors do show some of their individuals talents, they are massively overshadowed in every way by the young girls in the cast and are often reduced to background roles at best, the token adults to watch over the young girls who become the true victims, and heroes, of the story by the films end. I found the acting of these three to be lackluster at best to be bluntly honest with a lot to be desired from their involvement in an otherwise effective horror project. At times they’re wooden, and when they’re not emotionless or dry they serve as merely ways to drive the plot through exposition or as the token doubters in this supernatural story that fail to believe the children until it’s too late. All they are are a trio of unapologetic cliches and they don’t really add anything to the film sorry to say.
In addition, while “Annabelle: Creation is an impressively effective and scary horror film that should be commended for capturing all the best aspects of the genre, it has one other major fatal flaw and that’s a bit of poor pacing that makes Annabelle’s origin story and background nothing more than a few minutes of summarized exposition. When it comes to the true horror of the film everything was done right, but this is a film that’s supposed to explore the origins of a creepy doll and we only get the full story of the doll’s origins in a short, five-minute discussions while approaching the third act. It’s an oversight, or rather rushed footnote within the tale, that, for a brief moment, devolves the film into the same mediocrity as its predecessor but happily it doesn’t last long. We still get to see Annabelle’s first true act of terror and learn more about her motives and end game. It might be a mark on an otherwise great horror film that keeps it from unquestionable excellence, but it’s far from enough to detract from the overall quality of the project as a truly frightening and unsettling cinematic experience.
Not that this plays into my grading of this film, but something I really do want to touch on is how well this film was designed to work as the beginning of the larger “Conjuring” universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought in a surge of attempted cinematic universes, but few have managed to capture the same consistency in Marvel’s collection. “Annabelle: Creation”, being the first film in “The Conjuring” timeline, sets up everything that has and will come from the films included in this series, including an AMAZING tie in to the first “Annabelle” film, a callback to the real life doll’s design, and even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to the Nun, an evil figure featured in “The Conjuring 2” and soon to be the centerpiece of her own spin off film. While it really doesn’t play into whether or not “Annabelle: Creation” itself is a good movie, it is an impressive and jaw dropping attention to detail that speaks to the larger world Annabelle inhabits as a haunted object of special interest to the Warrens.
In summary, “Annabelle: Creation” is a perfect melding of everything great about the horror genre, taking the best scare tactics and approaches and utilizing them to great effect in the same manner than “The Conjuring” did years before. It’s a “based on a true story” film, it has well placed jump scares, it provides great atmosphere and psychological horror, it contains a very well designed and scary conduit that has become synonymous with modern horror, and it contains powerful and convincing acting that brings all of that together into a nice package. “Annabelle: Creation” may have a few flaws of note, and may not focus on the ACTUAL origin of the titular doll, but for all intents and purposes it’s everything a great horror film is supposed to be. All of the aspects listed above can be used alone to make great cinematic experiences, but put them together in the hands of the right people and you get something like this movie, a gripping, scary, and well presented project that deserves to be called one of scariest movies of 2017 so far. As Halloween roles around with a few major horror releases still on the way, “Annabelle: Creation” has set the bar pretty high and it will be exciting to see if the remaining horror projects on the way can keep up.