Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto
Run Time: 109 mins
‘Annabelle: Creation’ is a sequel-cum-prequel to 2014’s ‘Annabelle’ and is the next entry set in the filmic universe of ‘The Conjuring’. I thought ‘Annabelle’ was incredibly disappointing after James Wan had done an excellent job on ‘The Conjuring’ the year before. It is laugh-out-loud funny in parts, boring and has some atrocious performances from its cast. There’s a reason Ward Horton has seemingly vanished off the film scene… Although it would seem as if I aggressively didn’t want a sequel, when news came that in the director’s chair would be David F. Sandberg, I instantly had faith he’d do a good job. Sandberg is an excellent director who did a very efficient job with last year’s ‘Lights Out’ and he is infinitely more creative than John R. Leonetti who had directed the first film. I also really like both ‘Conjuring’ films and having Wan’s name on a film mostly indicates to a quality production. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is set before ‘Annabelle’ and we are first introduced to the Mullins family played by Anthony LaPaglia as Samuel, a toymaker and Miranda Otto as Esther and their daughter, Annabelle but nicknamed ‘Bee’. Very quickly into the film, Bee is run over by a car and is killed. 12 years later, a still-grieving Samuel and Esther welcome a nun and several orphans from an orphange to live in their property but as you can probably guess, things don’t turn out so well. The story doesn’t exactly break new ground but if the film is able to craft a creepy atmosphere and narratively advance this wider universe, the film has done its job.
And it does. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is a marked improvement over its predecessor and is suitably scary, features good character development and is shot beautifully by cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. It also ties itself nicely into the wider universe but not enough to detract from the film – Sandberg still manages to satisfy on a standalone level. One must applaud Sandberg for having a go at crafting many different types of scare and seeing what sticks and there are several sequences which are superbly crafted. Unfortunately, the film does stick to convention at times and there are a few sections bordering on comedy but it is so, so much better than its predecessor in every level.
The performances in the film are great. Both Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson as Janice and Linda, two young orphans, the former a sufferer of polio who is confined to crutches excel in this film and have so much charisma and chemistry together. It’s also refreshing to see Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto in a mainstream film and both remind us why they deserve to act more often.
The scares are what Sandberg really nails and it’s good to see him try to stray away from convention. All of the films in ‘The Conjuring’ universe so far have impressed by being 15-rated without strong language, gore or sex. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ strays from the pack a bit as there are several sequences which are quite bloody and gory but it works in the film as Sandberg tries to shock audiences. One doesn’t really expect much other than a jump scare and Sandberg shakes up this tired routine. It is definitely the most startling entry in the canon so far in this regard.
Unfortunately, the story is rather conventional at times and characters do make some quite frankly stupid decisions. There are some moments which dangerously veer into comedic territory but Sandberg’s innovative scares manage to outweigh this problem. Had Sandberg been equipped with a stronger script, he really could have knocked this film out of the park.
Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is excellent here and there are multiple moments where the images crafted were just breathtaking. Alexandre’s camera angles also differ from the norm and he knows when to hold onto a shot for dramatic effect. Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is also strong at times and fits in nicely with the film.
Overall, my high hopes for this film proved to be correct and Sandberg continues to cement himself as a strong horror director. ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is one of those rare sequels that manages to improve on its original in every way, a very poor film and this is a very reasonable one. It’s suitably scary and manages to tie itself nicely into the cinematic universe neatly without feeling forced. It proves the point that spin-off’s aren’t always cash-grabs, if anything it further enrichens the main canon of ‘Conjuring’ films. With ‘The Nun’ and ‘The Crooked Man’ in the pipeline following their introduction in ‘The Conjuring 2‘, there’s a good possiblity we’re in for a set of more quality films.