Annabelle: Creation - Review: A Better-Crafted 2nd Edition
Recently, a certain Lannister was telling us there are always lessons in failures and he was right. Whether or not we chose to learn them is another thing. In film terms, if your film has problems, do you try to learn from them in a sequel or just keep them even bigger (aka the Michael Bay Transfomers approach)? Arguably, the worst offending genre for not learning or improving on failures through a film series is horror.... yet some do. Last year, we had this with Ouija. The first film was poor. The prequel continuation looked to be the same but turned out to be not only improved a genuinely decent horror film. That brings us to the Hot Topic of creepy dolls, Annabelle. Her first film as a Conjouring spin was not only a snooze fest but one of 2014's worst films. Now 3 years later, that spin-off is getting a prequel. Can the horror prequels kill it 2 years running? Or will it be, “Dull Doll: The Beginning”? Thankfully, it’s the first as through superior direction we finally get the creepy doll movie we should have had in the first place.
A group of orphans in the care of Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman - Narcos) move into the house of toymakers Esther (Miranda Otto – LOTR’s Eowyn) and Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPalgia – Without a Trace) who lost their young daughter in a car accident. One of the orphans finds herself drawn to a rather creepy -looking doll that may be much more than in seems.
This second offering is a much stronger (toy) story. Rather than the first film concentrating on linking the titular doll into the Conjouring “horrorverse”, Creation focuses on the origins of its evil and as a result is much stronger horror material. Yes, this is about as generic as horror movie stories get with a group of innocents moving into a creepy old house only to find (non-spoiler alert) that it’s haunted/possessed/has someone crazy living in the walls. Similarly, there are many elements of the setting that are completely signposted as being used for later scares (like a well and a stair lift) to make the film far too predictable. Yet despite those cracks in the porcelain, Creation has a crucial trick in its toy box that keeps it being more enjoyable. That is its pace. So many horror films fall flat on their face by slowing down to draw out their intrigue and suspense only to lose all momentum and get flat out boring. By contrast, this Annabelle is as energetic as its featured daughter. After an introductory 20 minutes or so, the scares start only to stay frequent and consistent right through to the finish. It counters its predictability by giving you less time to think about it due to the more rewarding on-screen distractions. It’s here we remember that director David F Sanberg gave us last year’s impressive Lights Out. His work behind the camera is the hat on the Malibu Stacey doll that transforms Annabelle into an entirely new product. While we still plenty of still shots down corridors or across rooms, when they add to the tension, the film also makes great use or more quick & dynamic shots. Not only do these provide some fun scene transitions but add to the desperation of frantic moments.
The horror imagery on display is mostly well-crafted. CG is not Annabelle’s friend but practical effects most certainly are. The film knows how to use its principle creepy looking prop and all the best moments come from twisting the anticipation over whether or not something will happen when the doll is on screen. This makes for some big jump moments and really tantalising tension when things are lingering in and out of darkness. Some of the more simple tricks are also quite affective: such as an oversized dollhouse replica of the house made by the toymaker father. It’s excellent trigger for over active imaginations. Then, there is the CG monster imagery. This continues the idea from the first film of doll being a conduit for a big nasty evil which occasionally makes its way on screen. The trouble is that feels completely out-of-place with more suspenseful sections of the film. It’s the same problem that killed the last Paranormal Activity movie by, “showing you the activity”. When a horror film creates fear from the unknown and uncertainty the last thing you should do is give that a face or a shambling shape. It does still provide some good moments here but should have been used more sparingly.
Creation makes an interesting transition into being a slasher movie in its final act and more the most part, it actually works. There are enough cast members still kicking about to create multiple situations of action and peril while but crucially these are still interwoven into the existing suspense format to have scenes and characters make snap changes in tone. This section and some early moments do make Creation far more graphic than its original with a number of rather gory images so if that’s not your ides of playtime maybe give this game a miss. The cast are nothing memorable but do the job of conveying their fear and emotions when required even if their dialogue is nothing special. The Lord of the Rings fans should be wary that Miranda Otto has much less screen time that you’ll expect and feels quite underused. However, bonus points for having the young Annabelle played an actress called Samara.
Creation even finishes itself with a bow by ultimately linking up to its 2014 film seamlessly to round off an entertaining horror prequel with far more merit than expected. For fans that like suspense and can tolerate some graphic imagery, Annabelle: Creation will likely make for a good night’s viewing.