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We live in an era where every overstuffed blockbuster is sold to us not as a mere movie but as the opening chapter in a grand, multi part cinematic adventure. Most of these efforts forget that the first chapter needs to stand on it’s own merits to gain our attention and consequentially they fall at the first hurdle. Nimbly leaping over the mangled bodies of your King Arthur‘s, your The Host’s and your Golden Compass‘s is one little franchise that could. Of all the properties to spin into an extended universe who would have bet on 2013’s The Conjuring?
James Wan’s surprise summer hit has so far spawned a successful sequel (see our review) and one spin off with another in production. Annabelle: Creation is the prequel to the OG spin off Annabelle; a film about a creepy doll that I’m sure we all remember. One film wasn’t enough to explain why the doll is so creepy so now we get the origin story. Turns out a ghost did it.
We meet a doll-maker shortly before he loses his daughter in the obligatory horror movie kid death opening scene. Twelve years later, he and his wife welcome a group of orphans into their home and we see the various creaky spaces from the point of view of two of the young orphan girls. These two friends, Linda and Janice, worry about being split up if adopted but soon they have bigger fish to fry in the shape of an objectively terrifying, demonic children’s toy. If anyone can turn this tale into an entertaining campfire story it’s David F Sandberg, the man that last year spun his 2 minute short film, Lights Out, into a profitable feature that managed many effective set pieces. Having proved that he can land a jump scare, he’s now been given raggedy Annabelle to play with.
There are many moments in Annabelle: Creation that are effective. You’ll jump at the scares and you’ll exhale in relief at the false alarms. That’s no small feat. A lot of images are the kind of hokum you’ll either go with or roll your eyes at. An extraneous, creepy scarecrow, a bedridden wife and a dark room full of dolls all make an appearance. The problem is that between the big moments, the characters and their relationships all fall flat partially, you suspect, because neither the Writer nor the Director were interested in them themselves.
It’s a bit of a bummer as the story of two young friends wanting to protect one another and stay together is a potentially powerful one. Here, the characters are too one note to care about and their surroundings are more interesting than their interactions. Annabelle: Creation is more concerned with a door creaking behind someone than what that character might make us feel or think.
You also get the sense that Sandberg was made to include franchise building details that bog down the proceedings. ‘Remember the Nun from Conjuring 2? No? Well we’re going to stop and talk about her for some reason, despite the fact she’s not in this movie’ (The Nun is a future spin off, prebook now). It also has a pointless epilogue that ties this prequel to the little loved 2014 Annabelle.
In spite of all this, most of those buying a ticket probably won’t be too disappointed. It’s not like this is asking any questions other than ‘Did that doll’s gaze just follow me round the fucking room?’ If you want a movie which answers that age old question and provides very entertaining, throwaway fun this is a safe bet. Demons cackle. Children scream. It’s a good time.