Following Oujia: Origin Of Evil’s nifty trick of overcoming a terrible predecessor to deliver a surprisingly solid horror movie, Annabelle: Creation takes a similar route: a period prequel that ramps up the scares. Director David F Sandberg has proven that he’s capable of making audiences jump out of their skin with Lights Out, and here he delivers a highly entertaining chiller with nods from everything from Hitchcock to Goosebumps.
It’s the late 50s, and a girls’ orphanage is relocating to a grand old house in the middle of nowhere owned by master doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto). The couple is still grieving the loss of their young daughter and her room is off-limits to the new arrivals. But when polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Bateman) finds the door unlocked, she can’t help but peek inside…
Several key creative decisions put this film ahead of Annabelle early on. Telling the story from the point of view of young Janice and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson, making her second superior prequel appearance following Ouija: OOE) makes the peril infinitely more engaging and the performances from the young cast are excellent.
The filmmakers also embrace the fact that they’re making a film about a haunted doll, and Sandberg takes his cue from franchise godfather James Wan in throwing all kinds of terrifying spirits and boogeymen at his characters. The director proves to be an excellent choice to bring a little life to the doll and shows that he’s an accomplished craftsman. Furthermore, without wanting to spoil anything, it’s also surprisingly brutal, both in terms of the gore and subject matter.
It doesn’t all quite work. It’s overlong and the script sometimes drags. While the time spent developing Janice and Linda is definitely worthwhile, the adult characters are underwritten (particularly Stephanie Sigman’s Sister Charlotte) and the nods to the wider Conjuring universe feel a little forced.
However, it’s well-directed, it’s well-acted, and it’s genuinely creepy while offering some great jump scares too. If you’re looking for a fun horror movie to balance out the summer blockbusters, this will do the trick.