3 out of 5
Prequels to horror films generally haven’t had much success. A prequel of a prequel therefore should fail miserably. That’s the conventional wisdom leading into ‘Annabelle: Creation’ the origin story of the creepy doll and titular character of the first film, which was itself a spinoff of James Wan’s ‘The Conjuring’ franchise. Happily, this film is far from a disaster, in fact it is an entertainingly scary and well-acted horror film that adds to the mythology of its source material, like a good prequel should.
We begin with successful toy maker Samuel Mullins (LaPagila) and his wife who suffer a tragedy when their young daughter is killed in an accident. Seeking to brighten up their lives they later decide to share their home with a group of young orphan girls. When one of the young girls comes across one of Mullins creations, the doll Annabelle, strange things begin to take place and the tension ramps up as the danger mounts.
The two young leads, Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) along with the supporting cast, are excellent. Likeable and earnest they are the type of characters in horror films that can be written off as the ‘creepy child who sees things’ but both performances defy their years, from moments of tenderness to moments of terror, you are with them all the way. The cast are helped by a well written script that gives most of the characters a moment to shine and manages to avoid to many exposition dumps that some horror movies suffer from.
Like his previous film ‘Lights Out’, Sandberg uses a combination of excellent use of sound, gorgeous cinematography and the restraint of the director not to rely on jump scares means the suspense can build nicely to a, mostly, satisfying payoff. The director clearly has a passion for the genre and even traditional tropes or clichés like scary children, rocking chairs and torches losing power actually feel fresh and are presented both knowingly and effectively but never out stay their welcome. The film is well paced and takes its time to ramp up the tension which is palpable throughout. Unfortunately, there are some things that don’t feel so fresh. The same problems which plagued previous haunted house films apply here, from characters making very stupid decisions to people staying in a house where clearly there is something amiss. While the script is good it feels at times like this was written as a stand-alone haunted house film and later adapted to fit into the ‘Conjuring Universe’, this becomes apparent toward the third act when the film breaks some of its own rules and the ‘Possessed doll’ aspect feels a little shoehorned in.
As a prequel, this does its job and makes the original better and while the execution is far better than most horror films around there isn’t anything particularly new here. Good scares and performances make this a worthwhile addition to the franchise but don’t expect a cinematic classic.