by Benjamín Harguindey
Review of Annabelle: Creation (2017), directed by David F. Sandberg. USA.
If I’m not mistaken Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to Annabelle (2014), itself a prequel to The Conjuring (2013), which also spawned the sequel The Conjuring 2 (2016), which will be getting a prequel of its own titled The Nun in 2018 as well as another “Conjuring” sequel after that.
I tend to get these mixed up together with the Sinister and Insidious flagships (each worth 2 and 3 movies so far) because they all share the same vague sepia-toned lightning and antique store aesthetic, and despite coiling back and forth in time they all essentially tell the same story about people (usually children) getting up in the dead of night to explore a creepy Victorian manor, beckoned by eerie noises and ominous doorways.
All of these movies are churned out by the same production studio, Blumhouse, who since Paranormal Activity (2007) have cornered the zero-budget jump scare flick. I am not without admiration for this craft, which in the absence of gory visuals and special effects banks on editing, camerawork and precise timing. I just happen to think the genre suits best a snappy Youtube clip than a 109-minute feature length film, as is it were, because halfway in the scares get predictable and by the end the FX take over as the movie inevitably defaults into a loud Exorcist-style set piece.
As per custom, the first half of Annabelle: Creation works best because every scare is properly cobbled without having to cheat with loud noises and such. The director is David F. Sandberg, a Swedish YouTuber who’s been honing the craft of scaring via camera placement and angling for years (check his short films Lights Out and Cam Closer for an fair approximation of what you’ll be getting here). Sometimes the scare will come in the form of a reverse shot. Sometimes there will be a bait and switch between the foreground and the background. You gotta compliment the way Sandberg successfully toys with his audience.
The story: a busload of orphaned girls gets shipped to the ubiquitous Victorian manor, owned by the bereaved Mr. and Mrs. Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto), who lost their daughter in a car accident 12 years ago. Not one night in, one of the girls creeps into the old room of their daughter and unwittingly releases the Annabelle doll from her confinement… and with it some sort of demonic presence.
From the get-go the premise of the story is pretty token, as it’s already been established in the previous two movies what exactly is Annabelle, and nothing we witness in “Creation” changes our knowledge or understanding of the demon doll. That in itself may be the movie’s biggest swindle. As for its characters, there’s some good acting from the children, although only two of them – Janice and Linda (Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson) – are given any real relevance to the plot.
The plot is the usual creepypasta fare about a passive-aggressive bogeyman, answering to no logic whatsoever save for the occasional intervention of shaky Christian hocus pocus (rosaries and Bible pages go a long way against the bogeyman; crosses not so much). There’s also a half-baked message delivered by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) about repelling evil not with physical strength (Janice is a victim of polio and sees herself as weak and expendable) but spiritual strength, although nothing that follows that scene seems to share or reflect that opinion.
By the end, the spooky atmosphere has become undone by the movie’s “anything goes” mentality, its decision to cast its monster into the spotlight one too many times (it looks like a cheap cross between Slender Man and Chernabog from 1940’s Fantasia) and by having its characters running and panicking around the house in groups ala Scooby Doo. The finale really doesn’t do the meticulous buildup any justice, but if haunted houses are your jam, you can do worse than this movie.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).