“Annabelle: Creation” is as scary as predicted while a bit better than expected. While we are surely served with many things you can expect from a horror flick featuring a malicious possessed doll and a creaky old house, the movie skillfully sets its stage and then hurls a good number of effective moments to jolt and scare us, and we gladly go along with that during its 109-minute running time.
As many of you know, the movie is the prequel to “Annabelle” (2014), which was inspired by that damn creepy doll which briefly appeared in “The Conjuring” (2013). While I did not watch “Annabelle” mainly because it did not get many positive reviews when it was released in 2014 (its current score in Rotten Tomatoes is 29%), that was not much of a problem when I watched “Annabelle: Creation” because, as reflected by its very title, the movie is about the origin of that doll.
After the opening sequence which shows how that doll was made, the movie moves forward to when six young orphan girls go to a house located in some remote area while accompanied with Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). For an unspecified reason, the girls had to leave their orphanage, but they are happy to see that their new place looks better than expected, and it seems everything will be fine for them.
Of course, we already know that the house is not a good place. Mr. Mullins, the owner of the house, (Anthony LaPaglia) is a mild, courteous guy who sincerely wants his house to be filled with liveliness through the new residents of his house, but, as shown from the opening sequence, he and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) suffered a terrible tragedy 12 years ago, and that still seems to be affecting him and his wife, who never gets out of her bedroom for some health reason while occasionally calling for her husband via her small bell.
In addition, there is a mysterious room on the second floor. Mr. Mullins forbids the girls to enter this room, but we clear see from the beginning that someone is bound to enter the room sooner or later, and that is a disabled girl named Janice (Talitha Bateman). As she tries to sleep during the first night at the house, she hears strange sounds outside her bedroom which she shares with her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson). She soon finds herself being led to that forbidden room, and then….
While it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that 1) she eventually enters the room, 2) she encounters our creepy doll which has probably been waiting for her right from when she and other girls entered the house, and 3) not only she but also other characters become more aware of something wicked inside the house, the movie constantly entertains us as deftly playing with our expectation. It does not hide its intention to scare us at all from the start, so we always know when we should be ready to be scared as the camera stares at dark spaces or odd sounds are heard on the soundtrack, and we usually get good shocks or surprises for us.
I will not go into details for not spoiling your entertainment, but I guess I can talk about several enjoyable elements worthwhile to mention. While door is certainly one of the most clichéd tools in horror genre, the movie has a good scene in which a certain hidden door repeatedly moves by itself, and I was both amused and chilled as observing that moment. I liked an early scene where the camera fluidly moves around inside the house for giving us the overall presentation of the interior environment of the house, and I was certainly delighted to see an equipment installed along the staircase, which did not disappoint me during one particular scene later in the film. I also enjoyed the nice creepy details of that forbidden room, and I was entertained by how one familiar song is utilized well for generating cheerful sinisterness around the screen.
The movie is the second feature film directed by David F. Sandberg, a Swedish filmmaker who previously made his debut feature film “Lights Out” (2016). He drew considerable attention via a bunch of horror short films including the one which eventually became the basis of his debut feature film, and, as far as I could see from “Annabelle: Creation”, he is a competent director who knows how to set the mood for good scary scenes. He and his cinematographer Maxime Alexandre dexterously handle light and darkness during several visually impressive scenes in the film, and I especially like the one involved with a few light bulbs. The sound effects are effectively used whenever the movie needs to dial up its level of creepiness, and it is often unnerving to hear the sound of that bell belonging to Mrs. Mullins.
The movie is not entirely without weak aspects. Although the performers in the movie did as much as they could for filling their respective roles, their characters remain to be no more than mere archetypes to be targeted by an unknown evil force. While the movie surely goes all the way for scaring us more during its third act, not all of its attempts are successful, and the following epilogue part is perfunctory while merely providing an obligatory connection to “Annabelle”.
Anyway, “Annabelle: Creation” mostly succeeds in what it intends to do, and I guess I can be a little flexible in my inconsequential star rating. While it is not better than “The Conjuring” and its 2016 sequel (I gave both of them 2.5 stars, by the way), it is an unexpected fun which entertained me enough, so I give it three stars with some grumble.