Review by Brent Lorentson
Following the success of The Conjuring, it’s no surprise that sequels would follow, but I have to admit seeing an Annabelle film as one of them is a bit unexpected. While The Conjuring was based on true events (as true as one may or may not wish to believe in the paranormal) Annabelle’s mostly a work of fiction. I’ll admit I’m a bit of the fan of The Warrens and have read plenty about their investigations and I certainly feel their life is ripe for the Hollywood treatment along with the hundreds of case files they developed over the years.
While the first Annabelle did well at the box office, it took a beating by critics but those involved at the studio see that there is still money to be made as they continue to expand their franchise. With spin-offs in the works, a film about the Nun Entity and as well as a film about The Crooked Man, and with a Conjuring 3 in the works, a lot is riding on the success of Annabelle: Creation.
The film appropriately opens with the creation of the Annabelle doll. Here we see that it is the first of its kind, hand crafted by Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia). Samuel is a good husband and a good father and we get to watch him playing a game with his daughter, one that will be familiar to those who saw the previous film.
Many years later and we find Samuel and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) opening their home to a group of orphaned girls currently being looked after by a nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). For a good portion of the film Esther is locked away in her bedroom. The orphan children are forbidden to enter it as well as Annabelle’s old bedroom.
As an audience we get it, we know Annabelle is haunting the house and we’re supposed to be getting the story behind the doll, but this all seems to be an afterthought. Instead this is really the story about Janice (Talitha Bateman). Janice is one of the young orphans that has difficulty getting around since being diagnosed with polio. She of course is plagued by the fear that no one will ever want to adopt her and all she wants is to be looked at as a normal little girl like the others. Janice does have one friend, Linda (Lulu Wilson) who looks after Janice like a caring sister and it’s their bond that gives a sort of grounding for this film.
Annabelle sees the loneliness that Janice endures and it’s something she can relate to, so obviously Annabelle reaches out to her. It’s in these earlier moments of the film that are the creepiest and the audience should exhibit some genuine scares. They may be all fun and predictable sight gags, but when things are kept simple with the film, it works to Director David F. Sandberg’s advantage. But, as it continues Sandberg wants to continue to hit us over and over with jump scares, not only losing their impact, but the story just crumbles because of this.
Talitha Bateman’s performance as Janice in the film is what sells the movie. Frankly this is one of the best performances I’ve seen from a child actor in years and it has me curious to see what direction her career will go following Annabelle: Creation.
If we were given a film that was more stripped down and focused on Janice and Linda dealing with Annabelle, we could have had something great. The Devils Backbone and The Orphanage are great films that delve into orphans and ghosts. It’s too bad the filmmakers didn’t take more away from them for the filming of Annabelle: Creation. With David F. Sandberg at the helm following the mild success of Lights Out; he seems to rely too heavily on the jump scares rather than just the guiding the actors into a scarier atmosphere.
I think this is the best way I can describe this film. Its title and the presence of the doll distract you like a beautiful magician’s assistant from seeing the mess that is really going on. It has jump scares and it is entertaining, but it lacks substance. Personally this only reflects how great a horror director James Wan (The Conjuring) really is and what a rare force of nature he is to film. Maybe he should have made Annabelle: Creation. The movie is still going to rake in a lot of money at the box office as mostly I see audiences having a good time with the movie . But for the horror fans out there that see it my way, I don’t blame you for sitting this one out.
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Philippa Coulthard, Grace Fulton, Samara Lee, Tayler Buck, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto. Directed by: David F. Sandberg. Genre: Horror Thriller. MPAA Rating: R for horror violence and terror. Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min. Release Date: August 11, 2017. Distributed by: Warner Bros.