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Everyone’s favorite spooky doll is back in Annabelle: Creation, David F. Sandberg’s new prequel film to not only 2013’s The Conjuring, but also to the 2014 spin-off film, Annabelle. Annabelle: Creation takes us back to 1957, where the audience becomes witness to the humble beginnings of the titular doll’s evil reign. What may at first seem like an unnecessary prequel story actually turns out to be an incredibly fun and creepy two-hour rollercoaster ride for audiences.
When Sister Charlotte and a group of young orphan girls arrive at the home of former doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto), it seems like paradise. A beautiful home in the middle of the country, this is to be their new home, and they take to it quickly. The girls have faced a lot of hardships in their lives, especially in the case of Janice (Talitha Bateman), who is recovering from Polio. But the Mullins are harboring a dark secret that quickly turns this little slice of paradise into a hellish nightmare, and it all starts with the doll, Annabelle.
As David F. Sandberg showed last year with his directorial debut Lights Out last year, he knows how to craft horror, and Annabelle: Creation only solidifies that. While the story may feel a bit formulaic, it’s the craft that goes into the film that makes it worth watching. Sandberg, much like his mentor James Wan, is a classic horror director who cares more about the atmosphere, tension, and dread that he can build in his films, rather than blood or gore. That mindset is on full display with Creation, as Sandberg uses the story to quietly build the tension before letting all hell break loose. For some, the beginning may feel slow, but that build is important because it builds the anticipation for what’s to come. Much like a rollercoaster, Sandberg takes his time as he takes the audience up the lift with tension, before the giant drop into terror the audience will face.
That’s part of what makes Annabelle: Creation so incredibly satisfying. Sandberg slowly invests you in the lives of these young girls, and you begin to care for them, especially in young Janice. The characters all feel familiar, and as Sandberg crafts the tension throughout the film, the dread the audience feels comes from them fearing for these girls. Even the idea behind how Annabelle came to be is understandable, and you can empathize with the Mullins. The loss of a loved one is never easy, and for some it’s even harder to accept, so for them to have gone so far to try and bring her back in any way is an understandable response. The humanity of these characters, and the way that Sandberg can craft them, is truly special. Much like with Lights Out, and pulling from what James Wan has done with The Conjuring, Sandberg knows that the audience needs to care for his characters, feel their fear, and really put the audience in the middle of it.
There’s a true craft to the horror as well. The way that Sandberg brings his characters to life, he also puts that time and effort into each scare. He builds for it, knowing the audience is anticipating it, and tries to subvert expectations every time. It’s smart, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, with no idea of what may happen next. One scene in particular, which involves a dark hallway, a pop gun, and some incredible sound work is one of the most intense scenes in the film. Sandberg puts the audience smack dab in the middle of the situation, and for some, they may forget that they’re not the character in the film. It takes a special talent to be able to make the audience feel like they’re caught in the middle of this scenario. Sandberg makes it look like child’s play, proving once again that he’s a director to watch.
It’s also refreshing to have a horror film that is as fun as it is scary as well. Sandberg manages to add fun and levity to the proceedings throughout, leaving the audience a bit off kilter. Those small moments of humor are a necessary addition to the film and gives the audience a chance to catch their breath, calm down, and get ready to the next drop in this rollercoaster of a film. This really does feel like a theme park ride, and Sandberg takes full advantage of that at every turn. Every scare, every character beat, and every joke feels meticulously crafted for a specific beat, with each sticking their respective landing.
With The Conjuring director James Wan producing, and David F. Sandberg at the helm as director, Annabelle: Creation is not only a great addition to The Conjuring franchise, but also a sequel that is much better than the original in every respect. In a world where prequel stories usually feel like unneeded additions to franchises, Annabelle: Creation manages to not only feel relevant, but tries hard not to take away the mystique of the doll itself. The film never tries to over explain the character, and that’s for the best, making the doll still feel terrifying, while giving the audience a back story they didn’t know they wanted. Fans of The Conjuring franchise can rest easy knowing that the film delivers on the scares and fun that the series is known for. Tense, scary, and overall just fun, Annabelle: Creation is a late summer treat for audiences that will give them their money’s worth. This is a great cap to a mediocre summer season, while also being an easy contender for one of the best horror films of the year.