Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.
In 2013, Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg directed a short film called “Lights Out.” Little did he know that it would change his life forever. Three years later, he adapted into a feature-length movie of the same name, starring Australian actress Teresa Palmer and it was a box office smash. Because of the film’s success, Warner Bros. approached him about directing the next installment in “The Conjuring” universe, aptly titled, “Annabelle: Creation.” And it’s a good thing he agreed because in the hands of a less-capable director, “Annabelle: Creation” could have easily become another eye-rolling, cringe-worthy adaptation to an otherwise successful franchise.
Sandberg knows film. He knows the art of moviemaking and he especially understands what goes into creating a horror film. Like John Carpenter before him, Sandberg loves to play with audience expectations. In his movies, when a character enters an eerie location, at some point they end up in a shadowy part of the room and Sandberg frames the shot in such a way that there is an enormous amount of dark, empty space behind them, leading the audience to believe that something scary is about to happen but just when you think it will, nothing does and the character leaves the shot entirely. So he leads you into the next scene and sets up the expectation again and something might transpire or it might not, and in playing with the audience’s emotions like this, he lets you know early on that the scares are not going to take place when you think they will and that keeps everyone on the edge of their seat. That is the mark of a real filmmaker.
As the story begins, we are introduced to dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and their young daughter Bee (Samara Lee). After a tragic accident on the way home from church one day takes Bee’s life, the Mullins retreat into their house for many years. A decade later, they open up their house to Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), a nun from a small church and several girls from an orphanage that has just closed down. Samuel informs them that Mrs. Mullins stays in her room out of sight and he shows them around their very spacious house. All rooms are open to the girls except for one, a room that Samuel keeps locked at all times. The girls eventually find out that they once had a young daughter who was tragically killed years earlier and naturally, one of the young girls becomes curious. During the night, the door to the locked room mysteriously opens to her and she goes inside to investigate. Within the room, she discovers a hidden closet and inside is a large doll, sitting in a chair. It freaks her out and she quickly leaves but every night thereafter, she begins to experience strange occurrences. Initially, the other girls don’t believe her but they quickly change their tune when they begin to encounter peculiar and unusual circumstances of their own.
As the house begins to come alive, and each girl, including Sister Charlotte, all experience some form of supernatural phenomenon, Samuel tells them that the doll, which belonged to Bee, in the beginning, acted as a sort of conduit for the spirit of their dead daughter. Or so they thought. After her death, they reached out to the afterlife, hoping to contact Bee and interpreting the response they received as that of their daughter, they gave it permission to use the doll as a way to come into their house but then quickly realized that it was not Bee but a demon. With the help of the church, the house was blessed and the doll was locked away inside a closet whose walls, ceiling, and door were covered with pages of the Bible so that it could not escape. That is until one of the young girls inadvertently opened it and released the entity. Now Samuel and the girls must figure out a way to contain the evil before it is too late.
While “Annabelle: Creation” dwells more on the horror elements of the story, the characterizations are paper thin. We gain some sort of understanding as to why Samuel and his wife did what they did after the death of their daughter but the young girls and Sister Charlotte are never really given anything in terms of character development. Two of the young girls have grown up together and are best friends and both swear that neither one will allow themselves to be adopted without the other and this is really the extent of any emotional advancement the characters have but that’s okay. This is a horror film and once we are given a little insight into the various characters and their background, the movie kicks into high gear and the scares begin. “Annabelle: Creation” is legitimately creepy and filled with some genuinely frightening moments and to those who have already chalked this film off as another pointless prequel, I say to you, go see it first, then tell me what you think. Director David F. Sandberg has crafted another suspenseful and terrifying feature and with its success almost guaranteed, I’m curious to see what he will do with his next project, an adaptation of DC Comics’ “Shazam!”
In theaters Friday, August 11th