After the death of their daughter, a dollmaker and his wife open their home to a group of orphans and the nun who cares for them. But things quickly go awry, as one of the dollmaker’s creations begins terrorising the home, in Annabelle: Creation.
The film has an odd continuity in the cannon of the universe it inhabits. The first Annabelle (2014) film was a spin-off and a prequel to the wildly successful horror film, The Conjuring (2013). The sequel to Annabelle is actually also a prequel – making Creation not only another spin-off, but also a prequel to a prequel. Despite the convoluted timeline, the film is a massive improvement from 2014’s Annabelle; a film so dull I had actually forgotten I’d seen it. When I finally remembered I had, I couldn’t recall a thing about it.
The biggest improvement from the first film is in the characters. That is, Creation actually has characters, as opposed to the human shaped cardboard figures which lifelessly populated its predecessor. Even better, is that the performances are actually evocative and effective, especially considering most of the cast are quite young. That being said, many of the characters suffer from the age-old horror trope of constantly doing things no sane human would do. And ‘age-old trope’ is a phrase that could be applied to much of Creation. ‘Age-old’ is perhaps not fair, but the film is certainly a slave to many of the tropes and clichés of modern horror.
The same could actually be said of The Conjuring films, but the difference between the two lies in the execution and the craft. The Conjuring films (the first in particular) are masterful in their application of horror conventions, and the grace with which they utterly petrify their audience is laudable, and rare in modern filmmaking. Creation follows the same plot line one would expect, has many of the same jump-scares, and relies on somewhat lazy exposition to reveal the origin of its horror. All of these are criticisms that could be laid at the feet of many classic horrors, The Conjuring included. But the reason that The Conjuring triumphs while Creation treads water, is the vision, and the art of it all.
Annabelle: Creation lacks the flare and the passion required to push it over the finish line. While it’s perfectly fine, and gives the rush of fear, and thrill of terror that horror audiences crave, it doesn’t have its own voice. There isn’t a differentiator, or a factor that elevates it above exactly what it is; a typical horror film. There are a few glimpses of the heights it could have reached; one or two instances of creative practical effects hint at what could have been. But then the film slips into the comfortable skin of an overdesigned CGI monster. As horrifying as it is, simply giving it a face at all removes the greatest weapon a filmmaker has in a genre piece such as this; the imagination of his or her audience. The Paranormal Activity (2007-) franchise was the perfect example of how in-camera scares, and very few special effects are still enough to rile up audiences, and guarantee massive financial returns at the box-office.
This isn’t to say that Creation is entirely barren of creativity, or value. It’s tense, entertaining, and full of excellent performances from its young actors. Furthermore, it is a massive step up from its predecessor. The real tragedy is how close it was to being all of those things and more; how close it was to being bold, and unique. Instead Annabelle: Creation is a fun, but standard horror film (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
Talitha Bateman, playing the leading role as Janice, is the older sister of Gabriel Bateman, who starred in Lights Out. Lights Out was the feature film directorial debut of Annabelle Creation’s director, David Sandberg.