Annabelle: Creation occupies yet another (maybe gratuitous) slot in James Wan’s The Conjuring universe. Directed by David Sandberg, this movie is a solid horror, coming with a couple jump scares, some creepy dolls, and an adequate storyline that drives the film forward. With all that said, I think The Conjuring 2 is still, by far, the most artfully executed and moving installation in this universe. I haven’t watched the first Annabelle movie, but from my understanding, it was a flop. Maybe later, though. Yet another installation, The Nun, is slated to come out in 2018. Shrugs.
The story goes like this: Toymaker Sam Mullins creates a life-like doll for his young daughter Annabelle. Soon after, his child perishes in a tragic car accident. Many years later, he opens his home to take in a nun and six orphan girls. At first, the girls are excited. Terror strikes when a young girl opens the door to the room that contains the doll.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie, but it wasn’t my favorite horror movie. It offers solid cinematography, good acting, and cohesive, though somewhat simplistic plot. I watched it in a moderately packed theater, and I noticed that there was more whimpering and eye-covering (in anticipating of the next jump scare) than visceral reactions (like screaming, laughing, etc.—audience reactions that I noticed from Jordan Peele’s Get Out). Here are a few things I took home after the movie.
What I Liked:
• Cast and acting: With a stronger story, the actors in this film could’ve been exceptional. I found myself very emotionally drawn to Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, who, respectively play best friends Janice and Linda. Both girls promise to look after one another and harbor a strong desire to be adopted together. Janice is the orphan whose contraction of polio left her with a limp leg. She’s the one who opens the forbidden room and pretty soon after, Linda snoops into the room as well. Bateman and Wilson are incredibly believable in their roles. They both possess a certain kind of guilelessness and spryness that make them really believable in their roles.
I also enjoyed performances from Miranda Otto, who portrays Annabelle’s mother and Stephanie Sigman, who portrays the nun Charlotte who looks after the girls. They executed their roles with the perfect caliber of emotion, Otto with a diffident gravitas and Sigman with a subdued gaiety. While we do get a sketch of these characters, they definitely could use more nuance. Annabelle’s mother is a quiet victim to an unfortunate accident. Charlotte protects the girls and creates an environment where they’re comfortable enough to confess to her. We understand why and how they are the way they are, but we never truly see who they are.
• Female-centered storyline: The only man in this movie is Samuel Mullins, who, besides for being the person responsible for the inception of the creepy doll, doesn’t play that big of a role. Horror movies typically include waifish female victims (usually, surprise, virgins), with male rescuers and perpetrators. Annabelle: Creation feels different because it’s not a horror flick that runs parallel to a storyline about female adolescence. The young women in this story are fearful and terrified, yes, but they also have a lot of agency and can both fear and be the feared.
• The relationship between horror and grief: The horror of the story, the demonic possession of a creepy doll belonging to a dead girl, is deeply intertwined with grieving parents. It anchors the horror to a more deep-seated fear of loss, which is always a strong pillar to tie with a scary monster or presence.
What Didn’t Work So Well
• Exposition: The exposition of the film felt a little rushed and too convenient, which didn’t entirely sell the point on horror and grief for me. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that I wish the explanation for how the doll came to be possessed came earlier and had more development to it. In the third act of the movie, we find out how the doll came to be possessed in a very short span of 3 to 5 minutes. I think this ties in a lot with my earlier point about desiring character development. It very often feels like things happen to the characters in this film rather than the characters making things happen.
• Jump Scares: I’m not entirely spooked by jump scares, but I admit that I do look away from time to time. There’s a novel shock value to the jump scare—it creates a visceral atmosphere of fear when one watches a movie. But sometimes it can feel like a filler, a substitute for a well-crafted, rich plot. The creepiest horror movies ask fundamental questions about what it means to be human and why we fear the unknown. In this movie, I found myself awaiting jump scares, which came and went very predictably.
While I do think that there’s a thread between horror and grief in this movie, I wish it could’ve been more fleshed out—I would’ve been happy to replace a few of the jump scares with more character development.
• That bonus end clip: I sat through the rolling credits of the movie and discussed it with my boyfriend. We noticed a bonus end clip at the end, so we stayed a little longer. It was pretty anti-climactic—basically a close-up shot of something creepy with some erratic, creepy music playing in the background.
I liked Annabelle: Creation. Where it lacks in substantial depth, it makes up for with good acting and creepy, beautiful Americana cinematography. I don’t think it was the best horror movie I’ve seen this year, but it makes for a fun spook to watch with friends.