UK Release Date: 11th August 2017
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: David F Sandberg
Writer: Gary Dauberman
Starring: Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Anthony LaPaglia, Philippa Coulthard, Grace Fulton, Miranda Otto
Synopsis: Kids living in an orphanage find themselves pursued by an evil force when they move into a large, remote home owned by a doll maker and his wife, who lost their daughter 12 years previously.
Given the rapid takeover of Hollywood by the ‘shared universe’ model that has provided such dividends for Marvel, it’s almost surprising that it has taken this long for the idea to filter down into the horror genre. Since The Conjuring earned itself a handsome $300m worldwide, a franchise has steadily been building under the stewardship of genre maestro James Wan. With Annabelle: Creation, though, that franchise has become a universe. This is not only a prequel to previous prequel Annabelle, but also a film that provides connective tissue to future spin-off films. As a universe-builder, it’s a compelling and intriguing watch but, crucially, it also works as a straight-forward horror movie ride.
Best friends Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson) are among a group of orphans left without a home when their orphanage is closed. Under the care of Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), the girls move into the home of dollmaker Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto). The couple lost their child in a car accident more than a decade before and there’s a weird presence in the house, not to mention the fact Esther hides herself away in bed all day and there’s a conspicuously locked room upstairs.
Much like last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, this is a prequel that exceeds its predecessor by virtue of an intriguing directorial hand. In the same way Mike Flanagan used an authentic period feel to bring energy to his film, Lights Out director David F Sandberg brings a visual panache to Annabelle: Creation. This is a film that enriches and improves the franchise mythology, while also proving to be a thrilling ghost train ride.
At the heart of the film is a selection of believable and intriguing characters. Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, who was the standout star of the Ouija prequel, manage to create a real sense of friendship and sisterhood almost immediately and Sandberg is unafraid to keep things slow in the early stages while the characters build. LaPaglia, too, does solid work as a man weighed down by grief, even if the arrival of the girls into his home doesn’t make a great degree of sense. As a device to bring these characters together, it just about holds water and, once the scares start coming, plot coherence is tossed swiftly out of the window anyway.
The film does suffer a little, though, from its far-too-large roster of supporting players, who are rendered almost invariably as rather bland teenage characters. Not every character can have the depth of the central duo, but it does feel like the other stars are sketched in a rather lazy, slapdash fashion. Stephanie Sigman’s role as Sister Charlotte, meanwhile, seems to exist primarily to provide us with an intriguing, pleasingly subtle nod to upcoming follow-up The Nun. Franchise linkage is something the film actually does very well, weaving an interesting link to the first Annabelle movie in its final scenes.
Most importantly, though, Annabelle: Creation is terrifying once the final act snaps into action. The threat is intense and various Chekov’s Gun plot points are fired off with gleefully macabre relish. The measured pacing of the early stages is replaced with frenetic chaos, packed with memorable jolts and some of the well-honed visual effects that have become the trademark of the Conjuring films. It’s not as accomplished as the two main films in the series, but Sandberg’s work here suggests this shared horror universe may have plenty more shadows to explore.
Pop or Poop?
It’s a pretty shameless cash-in and marks the establishment of a movie universe packed with spin-offs, but Annabelle: Creation is a very effective horror movie that marks a coming-out party for David F Sandberg after the slightly disappointing Lights Out. The central characters are nicely-drawn, the linkage to the rest of the franchise is subtly done and mostly logical but, most importantly, it knows how to be scary when it needs to be. That doll is enough to give anybody the creeps.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.