The 400-Word Review - Annabelle: Creation
By Sean Collier
August 15, 2017
Some things should stay dead.
Not ghosts and demons; they can do what they want. I’m talking about overextended film franchises.
It was possible for the series that began with the quite-good possession flick The Conjuring to quit while it was ahead. A spinoff, Annabelle, tended more towards the hokey, but still served as a decent creep-out. A sequel, The Conjuring 2, didn’t pack as much punch as its predecessor, but the returns didn’t diminish too much.
That would’ve been the time to move on. Instead, here we are, with a prequel, Annabelle: Creation. Did anyone really need to know how the creepy doll became creepy? No? Well, too bad, it’s a movie anyway.
In a vague and occasionally anachronistic point in the mid-20th century, dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his horror-cliche wife Esther (Miranda Otto) dote on their young daughter (Talitha Bateman) in a Pollyanna-soaked corner of the American southwest. When she is killed in a sudden accident, things take a dark turn for the family. Twelve years later, they inexplicably open their home up to a group of orphans and their caretaker, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman).
If you’re noting that a group of vulnerable youths, unable to protest their conditions, has just been introduced into a potentially perilous environment, you’re thinking along the same painfully obvious lines as screenwriter Gary Dauberman. There are glimmers of a slow-burn ghost story in the film’s opening act, but they are quickly discarded in favor of a schlocky menagerie of jump scares, CGI ghoulies and inconsistent-at-best supernatural hoopla.
Director David F. Sandberg seems to at least be aware of what produces fright in an audience, but he’s outmatched in trying to wrestle Creation into coherence. The young filmmaker’s previous feature, the perfectly acceptable Lights Out, was a long-building labor of love; here, he seems unwilling or unable to simply point and shoot as a cog in a franchise machine, and so lays the style on far too thick. (There is also something unsavory about placing a group of pre-teen and teen girls in the traditional horror-victim role, since that trope has inescapable sexual undertones.)
Where there should be gasps, the audience is likely to chuckle and giggle; there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, nor anything we won’t see coming. Will this dud spell the end to the (ugh) Conjuring Universe? Nope; another spinoff, The Nun, is set for next year.
My Rating: 3/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark