MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is a terrifying step-up from its horrid predecessor

Thanks to actual filmic direction and a story with as much heart as scares, this prequel is everything the first film should've been

| August 8, 2017 | 0 Comments

Before I start my review, I need to address the topic of theatrical experiences. Many film critics are wondering why streaming services such as Netflix are beginning to gain traction as legitimate film producers with films like “Okja” and “To the Bone” going directly to those streaming softwares as opposed to a traditional theatrical release. About halfway through “Annabelle: Creation,” I then saw why so many filmgoers are choosing the at-home experience as opposed to paying $10 to be surrounded by people who feel it appropriate to narrate and talk to the characters on screen at full vocal volume. Audience participation in horror films is fine, but there’s a fine line that goes between participation and interruption, and that line was crossed before the New Line Cinema logo even faded out. So I have a few tips for those who feel it necessary to do such a thing during films in theaters:

  1. Stay home
  2. Don’t procreate

Okay, back to the film at hand. I hated “Annabelle,” as I thought it was a contrived, poorly directed, stupidly written, weirdly structured and generally un-scary film in all regards. I thought it was the first and last nail in the coffin when it comes to spin-offs related to “The Conjuring.” That being said, “Annabelle” made over $250 million at the box-office, so of course Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema were just hankering for a sequel, albeit a prequel in this case. I was a bit disheartened to hear that Warner Bros. had roped in “Lights Out” director David F. Sandberg into directing what was yet to be titled “Annabelle: Creation,” as I really liked “Lights Out” and didn’t want to see a talented director wasted on such a terrible franchise, but my feelings changed around last October when “Ouija: Origin of Evil” hit theaters. I had felt similarly earlier when director Mike Flanagan signed on to direct the prequel to the absolutely awful “Ouija,” but to my, and possibly everyone’s everlasting surprise, critics and audiences came to learn that with legitimate filmmakers behind the camera, any franchise could be saved. Still, I felt a fair bit of trepidation over “Annabelle: Creation” simply because I refused to believe lightning could strike twice when it comes to prequels to awful first films.

Call it a lightning storm, because “Annabelle: Creation” is scary as hell.

Set in 1957, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) is a nun tasked with taking care of a group of orphaned girls, including Janice (Talitha Bateman), a young girl suffering from Polio, and her best friend, Linda (Lulu Wilson). The girls are first seen being transported to a house in the country after being offered shelter at the home of Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto). The Mullins are nervous to take the girls in, as they have the space in their large home, but are still recovering from the tragic loss of their daughter, Annabelle, 12 years prior. When Janice is teased with mysterious notes to enter the bedroom Mr. Mullins instructed as off-limits, she finds a creepy doll locked away in a closet. In the days that follow, Janice finds herself targeted and tormented by the doll, and when she is faced with the demonic presence hiding inside the doll, she herself becomes affected by its power. After Janice begins to exhibit strange and frightening behavior, the girls begin to learn of the doll’s demonic origin, stemming from the Mullins’s innocent wish for their daughter to return. With the help of the family, the girls must find a way to defeat the doll and save Janice before it’s too late.

One of my favorite parts about “Lights Out” was Sandberg’s use of space when it came to the enclosed spaces of the dark and dreary house most of the film took place in. While the house was a normal, two-story family home, Sandberg constructed it and filmed it in a way to make it feel like an endless hallway to the depths of hell, to which he does here even more terrifyingly. The house in “Annabelle: Creation” is arguably larger than the one featured in “Lights Out,” but Sandberg uses the ebb and flow of the screenplay to portray the house as completely different beasts depending on the fear in which he is playing on at the specific moment. At times, the house feels impossibly large, as if you could run from the entity forever and never escape it, while many other times the exact same space feels constricting and damning, as if the demonic presence is breathing down your throat at all times, always one step behind you. This is an incredibly effective method of filmmaking that makes the singular setting of this film feel varied and unpredictable at any given moment.

Even with that, Sandberg and director of photography Maxime Alexandre (known primarily for shooting the beautiful first “Silent Hill” film) actually create a very beautiful film on top of that. The film never feels cheap or exploitative, and both of them use very unique and effective methods of pulling off scares in ways that audiences won’t expect. The great thing about many of the films produced by James Wan’s Atomic Monster production company is that these films aren’t without jump-scares, but the filmmakers behind such films know how to employ these startling moments at times that audiences don’t expect, rather than going for the obvious that the first “Annabelle” film did so very shamelessly.

The performances in the film are also quite good, as well. Children in horror films aren’t uncommon, but it’s always nice to see a group of children giving the terrifying material they’re given their all in a way that never brings audiences out of the moment. While the entire group of girls in the film are doing great jobs, it’s Bateman and Wilson (ironically also the star of “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” as well) who steal the show. Bateman gets to show off her dark acting chops once she is taken by the demon, creating an incredibly scary antagonist beyond just the titular Annabelle doll that one might not expect to see in a film like this. Reversing from her role in “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” Wilson is the one who gets to do the saving this time around, and her heart really shines through here. The film takes its time building a connection between Janice and Linda, making sure audiences are tied to these girls sense of sisterhood rather than just treating them like disposable bloodbags. Other performances from Sigman, LaPaglia and Otto are also very well done, and quite frightening at times, as well.

The score from Benjamin Wallfisch is also very effective. Beautiful and sweeping when it needs to be, but shrill and horrifying when it doesn’t, this is a different take on music in “The Conjuring” universe than what we find in Joseph Bishara’s work, but one that’s equally as effective, albeit very different. Variety makes a franchise survive, even in its smaller aspects.

But if “Annabelle: Creation” did one thing that impressed me most, it was that it actually made me fear the Annabelle doll again. I was freaked out by her appearance in “The Conjuring,” but I hated “Annabelle” so much that I actually resented the doll as a symbol of something scary as I simply didn’t find it to be so. Not only did “Annabelle: Creation” make the doll scary again, I appreciated that the film didn’t completely rely on the doll being everywhere at once, and really focused on the mystery of the demonic presence inside the doll, rather than the doll itself. That doesn’t mean that the physical Annabelle doll still isn’t scary as shit in this film, but Sandberg really finds a balance between mystery and in-your-face horror that works wonderfully.

If there’s anything in “Annabelle: Creation” that I didn’t really like, it was the typical thing of characters making stupid decisions when what they really need to do is leave, but if you give the film the benefit of the doubt in that many of the characters making these decisions are children, and with the fact that they’re making far less stupid decisions than most studio-produced horror films, it’s an easy flaw to ignore.

“Annabelle: Creation” is yet another horror successor that shows that if you hire filmmakers with a real passion for their craft and are willing to put the effort in, you can have good films in franchises that might’ve seemed hopeless from their first installments. I knew when Flanagan turned iron into gold with “Ouija: Origin of Evil” after the abysmal first film in the franchise, that anything was possible. While “Annabelle” wasn’t quite as blatantly and laughably un-scary as “Ouija,” it had a lot of work to do to make its prequel worth anything of note. While there was a lot more style in Flanagan’s prequel, “Annabelle: Creation” is a film that’s scary as hell that balances quiet atmosphere with neck-snapping terror in the span of one movie. That being said, I would highly suggest either seeing “Annabelle: Creation” in an emptier matinee, or maybe a few weeks after its initial release, or at home. As great as this horror film is, I wouldn’t wish the theatrical experience I had on even my worst enemy.

4/5

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, with Anthony LaPaglia, and Miranda Otto.
Runtime: 109 minutes
Rating: R for horror violence and terror.
Also available in Dolby Cinema exclusively at Concord Mills.

New Line Cinema presents, an Atomic Monster/Safran Company production, “Annabelle: Creation”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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