12 years after a tragic accident claims the life of their beloved daughter, Sam and Esther Mullins – a toymaker and his wife – take in a nun and six orphan girls into their home. Though Sam firmly puts in place a set of house rules, kids will be kids. Several curious occurrences lead young Janice into the room of the Mullins’ deceased child Bee, and there she finds – buried in a closet surrounded by biblical notations and news clippings – a hideous demon doll no rational person would ever play with. Thus begins our journey into the titular character’s origin story for this latest entry in The Conjuring universe, Annabelle: Creation.
A concept like Annabelle: Creation only works if you believe in the choices these characters are making, if their behavior holds a minor semblance of common sense. If the filmmakers can sell that our heroes are making the right strides to a devil-free existence and a brighter tomorrow, the terror is instantly amplified as we pray no one meets a horrific fate. From the moment Janice (Talitha Bateman) ascertains that something is amiss in this desolate farmhouse, her and nearly every other character begin making idiotic choice after idiotic choice, almost as if they’re following the “Bad Horror Movie Decisions” handbook. Aside from Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), not a single character in the film walks away without making at least one moronic decision that could directly affect the life expectancy of another.
For instance, Janice continues to venture into Bee’s room long after she has definitively established there is a devil in these details. Not to be outdone, Janice’s bestie, Linda (Lulu Wilson, who should already be well-versed in possession protocol after her turn in last year’s Ouija: Origins of Evil), stumbles upon Annabelle just chilling alone in a rocking chair – THAT’S ROCKING BY ITSELF! – and still takes a deeper gaze into the situation. If that’s not enough, at various times in the middle of the night, both Janice and Linda are viciously accosted in central locales which results in numerous shrieks and screams…and no one in a house full of occupants bothers to see what’s the matter. I can’t even get a glass of water at midnight without waking everyone up, what kind of sleeping aid are these people on? These are just a few examples of the poor life-skills at play in the Mullins home.
If the clunky script and preposterous reasoning of the characters never gels, the cast bears little to no responsibility, as they each put in overtime to sell every rudimentary line and asinine decision their characters make. Bateman and Wilson, in particular, do an effective job of rising above weak material several times, only to have the weight of logic yank them back to insanity.
Director David F. Sandberg offers a valiant attempt at making the most with a limited budget by incorporating numerous skilled crane shots and sweeping vistas into the proceedings. Sandberg has a keen awareness of elevating tension not through cheap theatrics and gimmics, but through sound design and establishing shots. Yet his unique style never quite overcomes the stench of mediocrity surrounding the entire film. Each moment of fright is manipulatively telegraphed in Gary Dauberman’s script, and no amount of gloss can eradicate that aroma.
Movies about possessed toys are always tough sells. I mean, who in their right mind retains a dummy as hideous as Annabelle, let alone allows the demonic doll to hang around the house once you’ve been awakened to its menace? And if you decide to keep the creepy bastard, maybe even give it a room assignment, then you deserve to have your soul sucked out of its eye-socket. These are your only two legitimate options: run for the hills and sell that house and/or doll to the first sucker you stumble upon, or grab a match and a can of gasoline and show that supernatural entity how we do things downtown.
Unfortunately, the only thing catching fire in Annabelle: Creation is a plausible script.
Starring Anthony LaPlaglia, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman
Screenplay by Gary Dauberman
Directed by David F. Sandberg