Does this ever work in movies?
When last we saw director David F. Sandberg he was helming Lights Out, a largely generic horror flick born of a three-minute short. Warner Bros. apparently liked what it saw, however, handing Sandberg the reins to the fourth installment of its ongoing Conjuring series, Annabelle: Creation, a prequel to what was easily the weakest of the first three films.
In the early 1940s, doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia; Without a Trace) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto; Lord of the Rings) are living a simple life with their daughter, Annabelle. Returning home from church one day they get a flat tire, and while changing it Annabelle steps into the road where she is struck and killed by a passing car.
Twelve years later, the Mullins family decides to host a group of orphan girls as well as Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman; Spectre) after their orphanage closed down. Among the half-dozen children are best friends Linda (Lulu Wilson; Ouija: Origin of Evil) and Janice (Talitha Bateman; The 5th Wave) that want to be adopted together due to Janice’s disability stemming from polio.
Once the girls move into the house, strange things begin to happen to everyone, but Janice becomes the focal point after wandering into Annabelle’s old room despite being told to stay out by Mr. Mullins. Within she encounters an evil presence that wants her soul, but will anyone believe what she says before it is too late?
With all due respect to the Nun from The Conjuring 2, who gets a little cameo here leading up to next year’s feature, Annabelle: Creation features more unsettling imagery than its predecessor and packs more frights as a result. That is does it without relying on cheap jump scares and minimal blood is impressive and in line with earlier films in the series.
We’re big subscribers to the “less is more” theory when it comes to horror films; in other words, the less you actually get a good look at the threat the more frightening it is (see: Jaws). Sandberg does well with that here, offering plenty of lingering shots of the doll — which never actually does anything — but very few of the creature attached to it. Oh, and that scarecrow in the headlights bit… well done.
Both girls do a good job in their performances, particularly Bateman who is asked to play the victim early on and something else entirely later. Sure, they make terrible decisions aplenty, but that’s part and parcel to most horror films. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well, though no one else is given all that much to do with the exception of Sigman.
At this juncture, we’re reaching the point of diminishing returns with shots framed with the action slightly off-centre in the foreground and some looming threat in the background. Even if you concede that it’s a genre staple, it still feels overused here with way too many moments from the same angle.
Some of the staging seems forced. It’s a two-storey house, but it feels like something out of Harry Potter where they go in a tent and the inside is cavernous — nine people live there even though rooms are off limits — with tropes aplenty (a dumbwaiter, a stair lift, a hidden subterranean room that’s intended purpose is unclear). The oldest girl dressing like she’s headed to a sock hop feels silly, too.
THE BONUS FEATURES
It’s a surprisingly interesting set of extras on the Blu-ray, starting with a deleted scenes featurette, which is akin to deleted scenes with director commentary we’ve seen on others. However, what’s different is that there appears to be no way to simply watch the scenes. Instead what you get is Sandberg talking about his thought process and why they got cut in pretty good detail.
There’s also a lengthy “making of” that Sandberg wanted to include as something for aspiring directors to watch in that it includes a lot of behind the scenes content. At over 40 minutes, there’s plenty to digest. Rounding out the offerings is a pair of horror short films and a feature that serves as a refresher for how this film ties in with the other Conjuring movies.
Annabelle: Creation is a marked step forward over the first Annabelle film and another worthy entry in the Conjuring series. It’ll provide some genuine scares.