For his second feature, David F. Sandberg really went all out for Annabelle: Creation, mixing up his bag of horror tricks to deliver a cinematic experience that just relentlessly comes at you with the scares once the titular doll is discovered and all hell is unleashed on anyone in her path. As far as prequels go, Sandberg has done a helluva job with Annabelle: Creation, and I commend the filmmaker for creating a clever and wickedly fun horror movie that surpasses its predecessor in numerous ways (akin to Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil last year). And, beyond that, Sandberg actually found a way to make the Annabelle doll super creepy, and I’m not one to be easily unnerved by evil inanimate objects. Well done all around, sir.
Annabelle: Creation precedes the events of Annabelle by more than a decade, when we first meet a doll-maker named Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his family (Miranda Otto as the missus and Samara Lee as the adorable little “Bee”), who enjoy an idyllic life on their homestead until an accident claims the life of Bee, leaving her parents grief-stricken and despondent over their loss. After some time, they decide to invite a group of orphans who have been displaced to live with them, hoping the new residents will help bring some life into the otherwise empty-feeling abode.
But the Mullins quickly realize that bringing the children and their caretaker, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) into their home was a big mistake, as young Janice (Talitha Bateman) discovers a secret hidden away in Bee’s bedroom: an evil doll that seems to be hellbent on torturing the little girl, as well as her best friend, Linda (Lulu Wilson), and the rest of their fellow orphans. And that’s when things go absolutely bonkers in the best ways possible.
Sandberg proved he was more than capable of concocting some innovative, yet beautifully simple scares with last summer’s breakout hit Lights Out. For Annabelle: Creation, though, he steps up his game and devises some truly inspired scares, once again tapping into childhood fears to bring his beautifully twisted genre sensibilities to life.
Oh, and just because he’s dealing with children, don’t expect Sandberg to take it easy on the young protagonists in Annabelle: Creation. All the girls get their fair share of terror-filled moments to endure throughout the story, but it’s Bateman’s character, Janice, who really feels the brunt of most of it, being tortured by ghostly figures, creepy entities hiding in the shadows, an unseen force that tosses her nearly 20 feet in the air and then, just a short time later, drags her through an old barn as she’s trying to convalesce from the heinous fall. Beyond that, Sandberg also gives us one of the creepiest scarecrows I’ve seen in some time, and a few other unexpected otherworldly delights that I don’t want to go into much further, as it would probably ruin some stuff. But suffice to say, Sandberg and Annabelle: Creation earn that R rating.
At the forefront of Creation are Bateman and Wilson (who gave me chills with her turn in the aforementioned Ouija: Origin of Evil), who both deliver fantastic performances. The actresses share an infectious chemistry together, and I enjoyed watching their dynamic shift throughout the prequel, as poor Janice can’t escape being a punching bag for the evil forces lurking inside the Mullins house, and Linda desperately wants to help her friend, but isn’t sure of how exactly to do just that. The actresses have a natural camaraderie in Annabelle: Creation, which makes them easy to invest in as characters you want to see survive the horrors of the Mullins house.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing production design by Jennifer Spence for Annabelle: Creation (seriously, you could get lost in the details of the Mullins’ house), and the inventive and stunning camerawork from cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (who has also lensed a slew of other great modern genre films like High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes remake, The Crazies remake, the Maniac remake, as well as the dark comedy The Voices). The contributions of both creative individuals really elevate the overall look and feel of Annabelle: Creation, and it was easy to get immersed in Sandberg’s world because of their combined efforts.
And for those of you who are curious, Creation does tie into the original Annabelle and we also get nods to The Conjuring as well as the real-life haunted doll, too. I won’t go into specifics because I don’t want to ruin the fun, but for those of you on the hunt for some Easter eggs, Sandberg has incorporated several that you should definitely enjoy discovering in his latest project.
With Annabelle: Creation, Sandberg successfully moves the James Wan-iverse forward with an unyielding sense of glee, and I think he’s done something very special with his latest film. I may not have been someone who needed another Annabelle movie, but I’m so glad it was Sandberg who was behind it, because his pure passion for classic horror oozes through in every single frame, and I really had a blast with it. I wouldn’t call it “scary” by any means for those of us who eat, sleep, and breathe horror, but Sandberg has managed to create something of an entertaining roller coaster ride that never lets up once the director lets the evil in Creation go full throttle.
Movie Score: 4/5