by Paislee House, Film Critic
In 2010 James Wan released “Insidious,” a unique and terrifying film that would catapult him into horror stardom. Then he made “The Conjuring” in 2013, further cementing his status as a supernatural connoisseur. Since 2013, The Conjuring Universe has expanded to include 3 other films: “The Conjuring 2,” “Annabelle” and “Annabelle: Creation.”
“Annabelle: Creation,” the most recent entry, serves as a prequel to all of the other Conjuring films and tells the story of how the horrific-looking doll came to be such a source of intense fear. As an origin story, “Annabelle: Creation” is believable and interesting even when it gets predictable.
First off I’d like to admit that there are few things I find less frightening than dolls. I am always shocked at how people who lived before the 1960s were not always paralyzed with fear when they encountered (what are now) old, porcelain dolls. Though it is never explicitly stated when “Annabelle: Creation” takes place, the costuming and set pieces hint that the time period is circa 1950-something. There are old vehicles, a record player playing an old rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” women in dresses and saddle oxfords and a young girl left with a limp leg after surviving polio. The film’s story takes full advantage of the time period. From the creepy children’s toys to the slow response time of authorities, “Annabelle: Creation” squeezes out every ounce of eerie elements from the 1950s.
After tragedy strikes the Mullins family— who live in the middle of nowhere in what appears to be somewhere out west— the mother and father decide that housing a small, Catholic orphanage is not only the right thing to do but a proper use of their enormous house. The story’s setup feels very natural and the focus on a Catholic orphanage, while a bit on the nose, was relevant to The Conjuring Universe in all of its dealings with demons and possession.
Within the group of girls are two best friends, Janice and Linda, who become dual main characters. Both of the young actors play well beside each other. Lulu Wilson, who plays Linda, is especially fun to watch as a worried best friend trying to be brave as she faces an unknown monster. Talitha Bateman is wonderful as well even when given cheesy lines. As Janice, Bateman is able to portray a complex character in a sensitive way. Though she walks with a crutch and leg brace that slow her down, her character confronts her weaknesses and fears head on.
Of course that isn’t always enough. Cue the foreboding music, which is a bit of a letdown in this film, considering so many of the films in The Conjuring Universe have such terrifying scores. This is likely due to the fact that a new composer joined the ranks for “Annabelle: Creation.” Benjamin Wallfisch composed the score and previously worked on the film “Lights Out” with director David F. Sandberg. Wallfisch’s score isn’t awful, but as someone who has become accustomed to hearing the music of Joseph Bishara, it was definitely a disappointment.
Where “Annabelle: Creation” began to falter for me was the last third of the film. The scares come in enormous, ceaseless waves and only half of them feel truly scary and needed. Some of director David F. Sandberg’s decisions were odd like the inclusion of a weird scarecrow transformation that felt completely forced and in no way contributed the main storyline.
The film has scary moments throughout, and the idea that throwing a million scares at the audience towards the end would somehow elevate the narrative and increase anxieties is too formulaic for praise. I realize it’s a mainstream horror film, but I’ve always been of the belief that less is more. “Annabelle: Creation” goes the completely opposite direction and gorges itself on predictable jump scares.
“Annabelle: Creation” becomes familiar toward its end, but the rest of the movie is strong, entertaining and spooky enough to almost make up for it. Though the film isn’t perfect, David F. Sandberg fleshes out The Conjuring Universe with a decent and chilling installment.