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17 Aug 2017

Solid Horror: 'Annabelle: Creation' Works Thanks to Fine Scares, Excellent Acting

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Lulu Wilson in Annabelle: Creation. Lulu Wilson in Annabelle: Creation.

Annabelle, the creepy doll from The Conjuring movies, gets her second standalone film with Annabelle: Creation, a silly movie that is nevertheless enjoyable thanks to some deft direction and surprisingly competent acting.

The movie holds together thanks to solid performances from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the latter the same child actress who turned in incredible work in the also surprisingly good Ouija: Origin of Evil. Mind you, the film is full of good performances—from the likes of Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephanie Sigman—but it’s Bateman and Wilson who get most of the credit.

The film is set many years before the first Annabelle movie, with orphans Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) on their way to a new home, with other girls and a happy nun, Sister Charlotte, (Sigman) at their side. They arrive at the home of Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) a doll maker who, we have learned in the film’s prologue, lost his daughter, Bee, in a tragic roadside accident. He’s miserable; his wife (Otto) is bedridden and ill; and he probably shouldn’t be accepting a bunch of orphans to live in his haunted house.

Yes, the house is haunted with a spirit residing in that creepy doll we’ve all come know and hate so damned much. I hate creepy dolls almost as much as I hate creepy clowns. Speaking of which, while Annabelle: Creation has some good scares, the preview scene from It that played before the flick was top-notch scary, and I can’t wait to see the whole movie. OK, I got off track a little bit.

Janice had polio, which has left her with a leg brace and a basic inability to run away from haunted, creepy, demonic dolls. One thing leads to another, and characters start getting possessed and ripped to shreds by demon forces. Damn those creepy dolls! Damn them to hell! Wilson was great in Ouija and is quite good here, but it’s Bateman who is the real scene-stealer this time out. She makes Janice genuine, and you pull for her to get out of the movie with most of herself intact.

Last year, director David F. Sandberg delivered a decent genre film with Lights Out, based on his terrifically scary short film. (Talitha’s younger brother, Gabriel Bateman, starred in that movie.) Sandberg continues to show he’s good with jolt scares; there are many moments in this movie when you are expecting one, and it still jolts you. He also makes good-looking movies; the authentic Southern Gothic look of this film lends to its credibility and keeps you in the story.

Does the film horrify or scare on the same level as Carpenter or vintage Romero? Absolutely not. Will it please those of us who like a capable horror thriller that’s low on cheesiness? Yes. It’s a decent, late-summer, let’s-not-change-the-world-of-cinema-but-deliver-something-relatively-fun kind of film. It’s forgettable, but fun while you watch it.

These Annabelle movies, and the upcoming The Nun, have sprouted from The Conjuring franchise. Give New Line Cinema some credit for doing a horror franchise right (well, mostly right), as opposed to that nonsense Universal tried to kick off earlier in the summer with The Mummy. These stories are coming together nicely, and don’t feel forced and silly like, for instance, Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) inexplicably showing up as some sort of super monster detective. Sandberg finds satisfying ways, especially in the final scenes, to link the Conjuring universe together.

Annabelle is giving Chucky a run for his money as the best doll you shouldn’t have bought in the first place, because it intends to kill you. I’m hoping for Chucky vs. Annabelle in the future.

Annabelle: Creation is playing at theaters across the valley.

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