But then, in 2013, horror hit a turning point. The Conjuring was released, and it blew audiences out of the water with its inventive retro scares and game changing horror style. It single handedly rejuvenated the haunted house concept, but one of the scares that resonated most with audiences was an opening sequence in which a young group of friends recount their experience with a haunted doll. This doll was named Annabelle, and for the first time since 1989, scary dolls became scary again. Naturally, and unexpectedly, the doll warranted a spin off movie, except it failed to live up to the Conjuring name. The film lacked in all departments, replicating the trends of so many scary doll movies before it.
Take your mind back to the 1950s. It’s a quiet lifestyle for a group of orphans, moving from one orphanage to the other without any permanent residence. They’re bored. They want to be adopted, or settle down at the very least. And that’s when retired couple Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther (Mirando Otto) offers up their empty home for the young orphans to come and stay in. Things are looking up for the girls, especially our two protagonists Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson), but, as is to be expected within the genre of horror, things in this house aren’t what they seem, and when Janice uncovers the mysterious Annabelle doll, she awakens an evil stirring deep within.
You’ve seen the premise before and you’ll see it again, but the filmmakers behind it, in particular director David F. Sandberg, have a sturdy understanding on how horror works. Sandberg knows how to evoke scares, especially evident from his chilling short films and feature length debut last year with the unexpectedly impressive Lights Out. He takes this mundane, simple premise and utilizes every trick in the book. Creativity is at a high and the suspense is dreadful. Everyone in the auditorium was locked to the screen in utter freight and unease. Horror aims to provoke, and it got its desired reaction. Nervous giggles and startled gasps were aplenty. We were all in this together, and every one of us wanted out, which is the highest compliment I can give.
The first two acts are dark, frightening fun with a wicked sense of humour. You never really know whether to laugh or scream, so the verbal result is a blend of both. Annabelle comes into play fast and she doesn’t hold back. She’s much more lively this time around, all without being a physical presence, which makes her all the more creepier. Just being around her, no matter what she’s doing (it’s mostly just her sitting), arouses goose bumps. Her design remains a heightened interpretation of what she looks like in real life, but it continues to be effective, and when mixed together with the malevolent entity present in the house, there are some absolutely nightmarish sequences to unfold.
Key to a good scare is good character. You need to care for their wellbeing for the tension to rise, yet with Annabelle: Creation, I hardly cared for any of them and the film still managed to knock my socks off. The two leads have stale chemistry, more due to their dialogue than their performance, and none of the supporting cast gets enough screen time for me to really give a shit. Anthony LaPiglia overacts his character, making him an unnecessarily sinister presence that comes across as more of a douche than a caring husband. There’s also a jarring protagonist shift two thirds of the way through that begs the question of why that second character wasn’t always the central point of focus in the first place.
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