Lights Out director David F. Sandberg delivers a strong and spooky installment to the expanding Conjuring Universe and also offers further proof that he craft an effective horror movie.
When it was announced that the demon doll would return for this prequel-to-a-spin-off the cynic in me immediately rolled my eyes and I groaned in disapproval. Why, James Wan, would you let your brilliant Conjuring series be tarnished by a series of generic sequel/prequel/spin-offs? Annabelle’s first big outing, back in 2014, fell flat on it’s porcelain face as it seemed to suffer at the hands of an eager Warner exec who rushed to ride off of the success of the first Conjuring movie and churned out nothing more than a paint-by-numbers horror movie. So why then go back to this property, especially with the promise of an origin story? Do we really need to see this? However, upon learning they’d hired David. F. Sandberg to direct, my cynicism turned to curiosity.
Set over a decade before the events of the first Annabelle we arrive at an isolated farm house, now a childrens orphanage, with a group of young girls and Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). The couple who own the property were once a happy family until their young daughter Annabelle was tragically killed years earlier. The moment the girls enter the house, you immediately get the feeling that something bad happened here. Every frame gives you a feeling of something sinister always lurking in the corner of a rooms. Like his first film, Lights Out, Sanberg is quick to establish a fearsome atmosphere and writer Gary Dauberman has done a fantastic job at utalising the setting to weave together strong and eerire set pieces from what could have easily been made predictable plot devices.
All the tropes, like an old creaky chair lift and a ringing bell from the mysterious hidden away wife characters room are all set up naturally enough and their sequences play out with long and drawn out tension, winding your anticipation up tight. The frights arrive thick and fast, the moment the movie stops for you to catch your breath we’re already being given the set up for the next big scare. What gives Sandberg his edge though is knowing exactly when to deliver the scare; some come when expected whilst others subvert your expectations and can give you quite a shock. One particular scene involving the doll covered in a white bed sheet walking closer and closer to one of the main characters, Janice (Talitha Bateman), whilst the sheet is slowly being pulled off with each step is a well constructed sequence that will test your nerves.
For me, the main problem with Annabelle: Creation is that the characters still suffered with off-the-shelf characteristics. What made The Conjuring stand out was that you could actually care for Ed and Lorraine Warren, they were believeable. A married couple who helped and supported each other yet still had indivdual personalities, so when they faced off againt evil you wanted to root for them. Here it doesn’t feel as inspiring, Sister Charlotte is only there to help forward the plot and all the orphan girls act exactly like little girls orphaned girls would; arguing over boys in magazines or being mean toward the younger main two girls. It can become rather annoying in contrast to the rest of the movie. That’s not to say it ruins the movie in anyway though, we’re here for thrills and Sandberg and Dauberman have cooked up plently.
For an origin story, thankfully we’re subjected to only what’s necassary of it and it’s saved mainly for the for the third act served up only to help the characters defeat the demon. Whilst I feel it works better to explore it at this point with the characters, as opposed to dragging it out in the first half of the movie it did feel slightly shoehorned in at this point as it risked derailing the tension of the chaos about to kick off. Still, the demon took ahold, and it is bold and brazen. It doesn’t care what kind of damage and terror it reigns down it just wants to frighten you.
Conjuring fans can breathe a sigh of releif as this entry proves the series can still influence nightmares but for how long? With news of The Nun and The Crooked Man spin-offs in the pipe line, along with the much anticpated Conjuring 3, we’ll see if these movies can keep their fresh edge or if they fast become another doomed cash-grab for the Halloween or dump January seasons. Either way, Annebelle: Creation proved me wrong and delivered a satifying and superior follow-up to Annebelle as well as a welcome addition to the Conjuring canon.