Director: David Sandberg
Starring: Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Miranda Otto, Stephanie Sigman, Joseph Bishara and Anthony LaPaglia
Running Time: 1 Hr, 49 Mins
In an era of huge cinematic universes, visual spectacles and tent pole blockbusters that miss just as often as they hit, it’s a nice change of pace to kick back with a smaller film every once in a while. And if you’re into horror, Warner Bros. has had a pretty good track record lately with their growing Conjuring universe of horror movies. What’s nice bout this particular family of fright flicks is that, for the most part, they’re small budget efforts that can be appreciated on their own as well a part of the larger picture.
The latest chapter, Annabelle Creation (the origin story of the demonic doll that appeared in The Conjuring and her own solo title) is another solid addition. It isn’t exactly a home run per se, but it still gets the job done with a little bit of style.
After their orphanage is closed, a group of orphaned girls are welcomed into the home of Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto). And there’s plenty of mystery as soon as the girls set foot in their new home. Retired doll maker Samuel is standoffish and distant while his wife Esther is confined to her bedroom as a result of the car accident that cost them their daughter years previous.
But the Mullins home and the secrets it contains prove darker for two girls in particular. The disabled Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) soon become caught in a terrifying game of cat and mouse with a malevolent demonic force seeking both escape and revenge.
As far as low budget horror films go, Annabelle Creation checks off all the right boxes. There are some moments of genuine creepiness (most of them centered around the truly unsettling doll Annabelle) and director David Sandberg (who directed last year’s summer horror sleeper hit Lights Out) does a good job of using subtle visual imagery to wind up the tension. Sandberg has proven he can effectively tease chills and scares out of low budget projects (Lights Out was made for 5 million while Creation had a price tag of 15 million).
Like Warner Bros.’ other Conjuring movies, Creation doesn’t rely on blood and gore as a storytelling crutch. Sure, there is some plasma but this is no slasher flick. But on top of that, it seamlessly switches protagonists about half way through. Moving the focus of the narrative from one girl to another happens so effortlessly you barely notice it and it makes perfect sense plot wise.
Annabelle Creation does a decent job of illustrating Janice and Linda’s plight. As the two girls begin to realize what is happening, they find they can’t rely any of the available adults for help. The Mullins are distant and unapproachable and their headmistress Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) doesn’t believe them until its too late.
The writing offers enough suspense to make Annabelle Creation worthwhile, and while it resorts to some of the usual horror tropes it avoids being cliché. It smartly tells the story of how the demonic doll came into being while also tying the movie into the large Conjuring movie verse. It’s a solid little horror flick all on its own, but it also ties nicely into the context of a larger story.
And better yet, it’s a welcome pallet cleanser after disappointments like The Dark Tower.