Not gonna lie to you: I wasn’t expecting to like Annabelle: Creation. None of the trailers looked particularly scary to me, and the aggressive mediocrity of last year’s The Boy burned me out on doll-related horror for a while. Annabelle: Creation director David F. Sandberg has one previous film to his credits, Lights Out, and though it was well-reviewed I never saw it, so I wasn’t toot-tooting into my screening on the Sandberg train. So, as the movie started, I was ambivalent. My feelings, at their most positive, were “at least it’s under two hours long.”
But… Annabelle: Creation… is good? And not just because it’s under two hours. Though that definitely helps.
Clarification: Annabelle: Creation is not great. It’s not one of those “you need to rush out and see this movie even if you don’t like horror”-type things. It’s formulaic in the extreme and suffers from hardcore “people in horror movies doing stupid things” syndrome. Man is murdered by WHAT IS OBVIOUSLY A SCARY DEMON in your house? NBD, just stay in the house overnight. “After all, where else can we go?” IDK, somewhere, when you’re sharing living quarters with a helldoll. What are you doing?!?!?!
Still—Annabelle: Creation may be generic and filled bottom-to-top with utter dipshits, but it’s also scary, which is pretty dang high up on the list of things horror movies should be. The film follows the template laid down by last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, namely taking a poorly reviewed horror movie and making its follow-up a period piece prequel that doesn’t require any knowledge of its predecessor. Creation is set in the mid ’50s, in a middle-of-nowhere farmhouse inhabited by grieving dollmaker Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto), whose young daughter died a dozen years prior. Hoping to in some small measure fill the hole left in their lives by their daughter’s death, they invite a group of orphan girls and their caretaker nun (Stephanie Sigman) to stay in their house. One of them, polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Bateman), finds a creepy-ass doll hidden in the dead girl’s bedroom, and… well, you can fill in the blanks.
Sandberg makes excellent use of the relics of childhood, turning dolls, puppets, bunk beds, and toy guns into the stuff of nightmares. Where Annabelle: Creation’s scares fall apart is when you actually see the Big Bad Demon in question. Put simply, he’s not all that scary. (This is the demon that uses the doll as a conduit, not the doll itself. The doll is scary as fuck.) But Sandberg does the best he can with the lackluster mythology he inherited by keeping our glimpses of the demon in question brief and small in number, opting instead for a heavy dose of atmospheric creepery and one pants-soilingly terrifying scarecrow. Visually, Annabelle: Creation is much more striking than a low-budget horror film strictly speaking needs to be. Sandberg may be working with an eh script and an eh monster, but he does a lot with both.
Finally, I want to give special props to one character in particular: Linda, Janice’s best friend, played by Ouija: Origin of Evil actress Lulu Wilson. (She also played young Mikayla in The Millers, if we have any fans of that rattling around.) This girl is a pint-sized final girl badass in the making. She’s the only one who comes to the conclusion that she should probably destroy the fuck out of that fucking doll. (Granted, she goes about her attempt in the stupidest possible way, but I’ll blame the script for that.) Her character, and her relationship with BFF Janice, are remarkably well-rounded for a supporting character in a low-budget studio horror release. She’s bold and authentic and rad as fuck, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of her in the franchise.