Review: Annabelle: Creation
Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to a prequel of a teased possession story from the first The Conjuring film. Being the second prequel, with its second director, in as many films in this spinoff series, it feels like the tales of a cursed doll are finding their feet—it’s very easy to say that Creation is far better and creepier than the first Annabelle film. The scares are set up more confidently, the characters are drawn more sharply, with real personality and dynamics between them all.
And the plot! There’s more of one, this time. It leverages the relationships between the girls from St. Eustace’s Home for Girls and their host family, the Mullinses, for good dramatic beats and disturbing setup material. The Mullinses are a family in a farmhouse in rural California, and Samuel Mullins, played by Anthony LaPaglia in a solid performance, is a successful dollmaker who keeps the roof over his daughter and his wife Esther’s (Miranda Otto) heads. They’re a happy and loving family in the little time we see them before disaster strikes. I give the film serious credit for absolutely going for it with that tragedy, too— even the split-second we see of that moment has tremendous impact.
After that moment, the story flashes forward a dozen years, and the girls from the orphanage are relocating to the Mullins home as a place of last resort. The orphanage has no other place to house the girls, and the Mullinses miss the sound of life and people in their home. The girls are all well defined in their relationships to each other, especially best friends Linda and Janice (Lulu Wilson and Talitha Bateman, respectively). Wilson and Bateman play off of each other very well, and their friendship is what anchors the film—similarly how the relationship between the Warrens anchors the central Conjuring films, it’s very easy to believe these two young girls had grown up together and gravitated toward one another by necessity in the orphanage system of the mid-50s.
Janice, a polio survivor with a brace, and crutch and a limp, is the target of the possessed doll. It would be an easy critique to say that director David F. Sandberg has made a second film in a row in which a disabled person is the main target. But, the film does take some pains to demonstrate that unlike Sandberg's Lights Out, Janice is not targeted because of her disability and that disability is never treated as a burden by the others in the home. Rather, the Mullinses' house is actually fairly welcoming to someone with Janice’s mobility challenges, which is refreshing. That fact also helps egg on her exploring through the farmhouse, and come across that demon doll.
That doll is thankfully creepy, once again. Creation has the doll move in the soft-focus background of shots, affecting the surroundings of characters before they notice its presence. It’s not often a shot can make you react to nothing being there as though it’s a reveal, but Creation pulls that off a few times. There’s also some fun, creepy business with a scarecrow and some light bulbs that unscrew themselves that was a creepy treat to watch.
There are some odd choices in the film attempting to setup Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) as a voice of religious authority—she hears confessions at one point, which nuns are not authorized to do. A reveal of a character’s name is possibly the single most obviously telegraphed thing I’ve seen in a long while, to the point where I wonder why they even bothered. And there’s a flash forward that really isn’t necessary, unless you’re some superfan of the original Annabelle film. But these weird choices by no means sink the film or its scares. In short, this is the film the first Annabelle should’ve been.