Full disclosure: I have not seen any of the films from The Conjuring universe and it doesn’t matter, because Annabelle: Creation is, in terms of the series’ mythology, is the origin story that kicks off the events of all the others.
That said, Annabelle takes some stock ideas, dresses them up with carefully modulated pacing, light and sound – and a very game cast – and kicks out the jams!
The movie opens with a man we come to know as Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is burning a limited edition number into a wooden case that will contain a certain creepy-looking doll – 1 of 100.
Shortly thereafter, he and his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto) and daughter, Bee (Samara Lee) are topped on the side of the road while Sam fixes a flat tire. A nut rolls into the road and Bee darts out to fetch it just as a car comes speeding along and we cut to 12 Years Later.
A flashback fills in the details about how the Annabelle doll came to be locked away.
A battered old bus arrives at the Mullins home bearing a half-dozen girls, a priest and a nun. Samuel and Esther have opened their house to be an orphanage.
The four older girls commandeer a large common room on the second floor – forcing the younger Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman) – who has to use and leg brace and crutch after suffering with polio – to share a bunk bed in what used to be a sewing room – where Esther used to make the clothing for Samuel’s dolls.
There’s another room on the second floor, but Samuel keeps it locks and sternly warns the girls to never try to enter it.
Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) is the girls’ good-hearted – who is, unfortunately, ill-equipped to handle the forces about to be unleashed.
Of course, that night, when a restless Linda goes exploring, the door is unlocked…
Written by Gary Dauberman and directed by David F. Sandberg, Annabelle: Creation is a genuinely creepy movie with some effective jump scares and a well-developed sense of foreboding.
Sandberg – who directed Lights Out – uses light and shadows in combination with some very effective sound design and a surprisingly subtle (most of the time) score and a very willing cast to create a movie that does something few horror movies do well – scare the bejesus out its audience in a couple of frenetic sequences shot in broad daylight.
The night sequences are, generally, more deliberately paced, with enough subtle, if familiar, creepiness (things move between one glance and the next; lights sputter and go out – all paced just a hair off the familiar beats) that sets up the big scares (which also fall just a hair off those familiar beats).
While the entire cast is game for whatever happens, it’s Talitha Bateman’s Janice who shines throughout. She may be handicapped physically, but she’s not lacking intelligence, courage or resourcefulness.
Bateman gives Janice a remarkable sense of control – even though she’s scared to whimper (or scream) when startled, she also wrestles her fear to the ground and carries on. It’s a bravura performance for an actor of any age.
The final scene is completely non-violent, but still a solid scare.
Note: if you stay through the credits, there’s a tag that, I’m told, sets up the next film in the series’ chronology (which would be, I’m guessing, a link between Annabelle: Creation and The Conjuring).
Final Grade: B+