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The Mullins family are a seemingly happy all-American family in the 1940s: but like in many beginnings in horror films The Mullins are struck with tragedy. 12-years later The Mullins open up their home to the church and house six orphans. Despite the seemingly ideal setting for the girls, strange occurrences start to happen in the house and one of them, Janice (Talitha Bateman) is haunted by the strange Annabelle doll.
The Annabelle prequel had a much more talented director working on it – David F. Sandberg making his second feature. Sandberg gave Annabelle: Creation more personality than Annabelle ever had. The first Annabelle film was directed by John R. Leonetti – a man who has had an unremarkable career as a director and has the unfortunate distinction of directing Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Annabelle was a generic horror film.
Due to the investigative and religious nature of The Conjuring films – they are from a similar mold as The Exorcist. With Annabelle: Creation, Sandberg let out his inner Sam Raimi – the victims are tossed about and there is an embrace of more gross-out moments. There is a lot of body horror when the demon appears and bones crack and get dislocated. One scene in Mr. Mullins’ (Anthony LaPaglia) workshop could have easily have fitted in a film like Drag Me to Hell. Annabelle: Creation also had moments of humor – alleviating some of the tension and bringing out a chuckle.
The film also does use some jump scares which is sadly the standard for the horror genre these days. Fortunately these moments were few and far between and there are moments of misdirection.
Although Annabelle: Creation is a spin-off prequel, prior knowledge of The Conjuring franchise is not required. It is a stand-alone film for the most part and it’s only at the end where Annabelle: Creation ties into the wider series.
Many horror films succeed or fail due to their characters and Annabelle: Creation, fortunately, passes this test. The smartest move the movie makes involves Janice’s disability – she suffered from polio, meaning her mobility is compromised and quickly makes her a sympathetic character. She’s isolated and unable to play and explore with the other children. She is even more vulnerable. The most effective sequence is the second time Janice encounters the spirit, struggling to escape from it, and due to her disability, she is dependent on electrical devices: which fans of The Conjuring franchise know demons can affect.
Annabelle: Creation had a promising young star with Talitha Bateman. She was able to play all the facets of the character – having a loving, sister-like relationship with a younger girl (Lulu Wilson) – her religious beliefs, isolation because of her disability, fear and taking a darker turn later in the movie. Bateman is one to watch out for and was able to make Janice a tragic character.
Even the older girls, Nancy and Carol (Philippa Coulthard and Grace Fulton), are made out to be sympathetic after starting out as the characters I wanted to die first. They are bullies but they are older orphans who have little hope of being adopted and when they find out that monsters may really exist they are justifiably terrified and quickly have to change. However, when I was watching the film, I thought they looked like women in their 20s pretending to be teenagers and guess what, they were!
The characters of Tierney (Lou Lou Safran) and Kate (Tayler Buck) were non-entities in the film. This was particularly baffling because Kate was an African-American orphan in the 1950s: surely she could have been used as a route to explore some social theme. But this is the drawback of the orphanage setting – some characters get more attention than others.
When The Conjuring was first released it was marketed that it was based on true events and the Warrens were real people. However, this rings hollow considering the franchise has spawned two spin-off prequels involving the Annabelle doll and for audiences who stay to end of the credits, they will see the producers have even plans for even more spin-offs. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Conjuring is moving further away from its ‘source material’.
For a film that is the fourth entry in a horror series Annabelle: Creation is a success. It is in keeping with the atmosphere and setting of the original films, whilst allowing Sandberg to put his own stamp on the series. It works as a standalone film as well as a part of a wider franchise.