Why wait until September to be scared by Pennywise when you could just go ahead and be terrified right now? Annabelle: Creation is a horror film for horror fans, and it’s a blast from start to finish.
The second spinoff of The Conjuring franchise, Creation‘s story is a prequel to 2014’s AWFUL first Annabelle film (a studio cash-grab if there ever was one). The difference between that film and this one, however, is the talent behind the camera. I was a big fan of director David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out last year. I thought that it effectively stretched a one-note trick through his focus on character and story, and he has done the same again with Annabelle: Creation (though he has much more than that one trick to work with).
The story is fairly simple. Several years after the death of their young daughter, Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) allow a group of orphaned girls and their nun caretaker (Stephanie Sigman) to move into their home. Janice, a disabled young girl, and her best friend Linda, begin to experience frightening supernatural activity that ultimately leads to the evil trying to possess Janice.
To say that the thrills of this prequel are by-the-numbers would not be wrong. They are. Much like James Wan’s entries in the franchise, Sandberg relies on several horror tropes, and keen genre fans will take note of each of them. Where that has been a weakness in the hands of other filmmakers though, Sandberg uses those tropes to his strengths as a director. There’s no denying that the director has a great understanding of the genre, which is something that stems from an obvious adoration of the horror films that inspired him. Annabelle: Creation doesn’t fall into these tropes, it harnesses them to scare the hell out of its audience (which, judging by the screams in the crowd of the screening I attended, it definitely did).
The scares provided by the film are fresh and inventive; something that I took great pleasure in. While the orphaned girls explore the setting, Sandberg masterfully teases potential scare locations as if he’s running a funhouse, leaving the viewer wondering what and when certain things are going to happen. Part of the constant fun of Annabelle: Creation is knowing, or thinking that you know, and seeing how each of these scares actually play out. The film effectively frightens us with a bed sheet, a demon, a horrifying scarecrow, and a willingness to linger on darkness that allows the viewer to fall victim to their own imagination. The doll itself is creepy too, but Sandberg is too talented to rely on Annabelle as the primary source of terror. In fact, I almost forgot about the doll altogether. This is a haunted house movie that effectively mixes old school scares with modern technique, and fans are sure to love it.
The main reason these scares work so well, however, comes back to the focus on characters and story. If we didn’t care for the people in the film, their fates would mean nothing to us- but they do. Each member of the cast performs well, but the characters and performances at the heart of the film are what drive the emotional pull home.
Lulu Wilson, the young star of Ouija‘s surprisingly good prequel last year, further demonstrates her talent through her ability to convey Linda with a caring and thoughtful nature against evil rather than stepping into the demonic role herself. The chemistry between Wilson and Talitha Bateman‘s Janice is sweet and endearing, and you find yourself easily rooting for these characters throughout. Apart from superbly carrying the film’s first half with her innocence and difference from the other girls, Talitha Bateman also gets the chance to be bad, which is something she absolutely nails as well.
It must also be noted that Creation is a gorgeous film. Sandberg’s signature directing technique and his impeccable eye for framing a shot are on full display, as is the incredible talent of cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. Rarely do mainstream horror films look this beautiful. The wide shots of surrounding land and the wonderful use of lighting and visual imagery are an impressive achievement that deserves recognition.
Fans of The Conjuring franchise will be pleased to find a few great Easter eggs placed expertly in Annabelle: Creation. These teases are never distracting and add to the lore in a way that enhances the other films- the first Annabelle in particular. The greatest thing about that film is how this prequel ties into it. Fans, too, may be pleasantly surprised to find that this prequel is every bit as great as the Wan-helmed films in the series.
Annabelle: Creation, if you can believe it or not, is a terrific horror film. It’s the kind of fun meant to be had with a screaming crowd, uncomfortable laughter and flying popcorn. David F. Sandberg understands why horror fans go to the movies, and I absolutely recommend that you do so with this film.