Review: ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is a Scary Good Prequel in the Conjuring Universe

Annabelle: Creation proves the Conjuring Universe can last beyond the Lorraines in this prequel centered around the origins of the Annabelle doll.

RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)

My personal favorite mainstream horror film of last year was Ouija: Origin of Evil, the prequel to the critically panned film adaptation of the titular board game from Hasbro that came out in 2012. I went into it with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised over how well the characters were written, how their relationships were developed, and how it acknowledged the ridiculousness of its premise by giving it the aesthetic of a B-horror film from the late 1960s. Annabelle: Creation continues this trend of prequels surpassing their predecessors by doing everything a horror movie should set out to accomplish, and adding David F. Sandberg to an already long list of directors to watch in the horror genre for years to come.

Sandberg came onto the scene when Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema bought the rights to his 2013 short film, Lights Out, and offered him to adapt it into a feature film, which came out last summer to good reviews from critics and grossed $150 million dollars worldwide on a $5 million dollar budget. The film itself, while only 80 minutes long, built an engrossing arc for its lead heroine, crafted smart characters, and built effective tension that lead to clever scares and exciting sequences of terror which made the film entertaining for its run time. The success of Lights Out put Sandberg in the director’s chair for Annabelle: Creation, where his aesthetic is a perfect for the newest entry in the ever-growing Conjuring universe.

Creation follows a young nun (Stephanie Sigman) and her group of young girls from an orphanage forced to shut down as they are taken in by Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), an antique doll maker who spends most of his days tending to his handicapped wife Esther (Miranda Otto), while looking to turn his house into an orphanage of his own twelve years after losing his young daughter in a tragic accident. The girls explore their new home with wonder in a well-executed tracking shot that follows them from room to room, until they reach the door to a room that Samuel declares off-limits. However, curiosity gets the best of orphan Janice (Talitha Bateman), who finds her way into the forbidden room and discovers the demonically possessed doll from the first Conjuring movie, which terrorizes her and the occupants of the house with the demonic presence inside it from there.

The scares in Creation have a natural progression from the traditional jump scare to atmospheric horror all the way to its monster-filled third act. The terror on display is conveyed through a visual look and aesthetic more reminiscent of the first two Conjuring movies; complete with slow push-ins, long takes, occasional tracking shots that create more and more tension as they go along, and an effective use of shadows that engulf half of the frame or the background, isolating the characters against an unknown terror waiting for them in the darkness. Sandberg also uses his location very well to create scares, taking his characters into a barn guarded by a creepy scarecrow, a closet coated in scripture and even a dumbwaiter in its terror-filled climax.

But what stands out the most in Creation is how well the characters are written. While the characters in the first Annabelle film were flat and boring; here, the main characters are Janice and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson), who are the outcasts of the orphan girls. Between the scares, Janice and Linda converse amongst themselves about their hopes to live in the same family together, recall moments they’ve experienced in the past, and assure they’ll never leave each other’s side even as the demonic presence haunts them. The tropes of their characters also feel natural and authentic, as do those of the girls who playfully tease them. What humor there is in the film also works, especially when Linda’s first instinct when seeing signs of the evil spirit is to protect herself with a wind-up toy gun.

The film does end with an underwhelming epilogue that connects this film to the original Annabelle, and there are instances where the scares blur together and feel repetitive, but those are few and far in between. Overall, Annabelle: Creation may not be on par with the first two Conjuring movies, but it is a very entertaining, scary horror film that’s one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. If you’re into horror movies of any kind, this is certainly worth your time and attention.