Review: Annabelle: Creation

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: David F. Sandberg
Writer: Gary Dauberman
Composer: Benjamin Wallfisch
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R
Based upon real events, the doll, Annabelle, is the relic of a paranormal investigation conducted by Ed and Lorraine Warren. We were first introduced to the titular creepy doll (why anyone thought it’d make a great gift, possessed or not, is beyond me) in the opening ten minutes of The Conjuring. In that film, the details of the real life case are provided, though Annabelle – a spin-off from the franchise – tells the fictional tale of what might have occurred beforehand, including how the doll became entangled with the occult in the first place.
So now there’s Annabelle: Creation – “a standalone film,” as the director perceives it, which will still supposedly act as a prequel to both its predecessor and the wider franchise. But… don’t we already know the story behind the doll? Wasn’t that the entire point behind the first Annabelle film? If it wasn’t, then why did I bother watching it?! The trailer for Annabelle: Creation is clear as to how this will all come about (and if you’re not keen on horror films, then maybe stay away from watching it), though it certainly leaves a few questions as to how it’s all going to link together.
This time the film is helmed by David F. Sandberg. He has only shot to stardom relatively recently due to his excellent short (and later a feature film), Lights Out. While the Warrens won’t make an appearance in the plot, Sandberg’s involvement, along with a few familiar faces in the cast, has allayed fears that Annabelle: Creation will be as big of a snooze-fest as the original.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: It’s a supernatural horror film. It intends to scare you. There are multiple jump-scares, ghosts, demons, scarecrows, broken bones, spooky noises, creepy dolls, stabbings, crucifixion, people violently being thrown across the room, and dead bodies. There is blood and some gore. There are a few mutilated corpses, one of which involves a decent amount of blood as a body is discovered ripped apart (you don’t see the actual act). That said, the gore is adequate for what is depicted (the camera cuts away for all but one death), and cannot be described as excessive, particularly when compared to other films in this genre.
Language/Crude Humor: One character says “d*mmit!” and is quickly rebuked for their language. Surprisingly, that’s it! God’s name is used very frequently, but it’s certainly not in vain!
Sexual Content: Teenage girls talk about how they like boys. Yeah, there’s nothing here.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None.
Spiritual Content: Uh, it’s pretty much the entire film. Annabelle: Creation portrays an externalized spiritual battle. A group of Christians, some of them very young, battle against a demonic entity by using their faith, prayer, and the Word, or just otherwise getting out of there! This is a fairly mainstream film; therefore the denomination represented is Catholicism, because, you know, there are no other Christian denominations according to Hollywood!
Other Negative Content: The demon is overpowered in regards to its physical and spiritual presence. Not only is it non-Scriptural, but also it begins to break the rules that are established in the film’s own universe. For this reason, it may be unwise for younger Christians to watch this film, particularly if they aren’t well-versed in what it means to have an identity in Christ; seeing such a powerful demon may inadvertently send the message that they are not a defeated enemy.
Positive Content: Horror films are certainly one of the more contentious story types out there in regards to content, but it’s the only genre that allows Christians to simply be who they are. There is no second-guessing as to whether God exists in these movie universes – He does, and so do demons, and Christians are right in their assertions.
In the Western World where there is so much focus on the material plain, horror films are one of the few environments where the idea of a supernatural realm can be introduced, and not outright mocked and promptly discarded. I saw The Conjuring 2 with my non-Christian friends – had the best conversation to date about God and what it means to have authority in Christ. Without the film, it would have been incredibly difficult to bring that sort of topic up in conversation. So yes, while films featuring Satan aren’t exactly the greatest idea, it’s not as unwise as ignoring the topic completely – these films do provide a platform for these tricky conversations after the credits roll.

Review

Grab a pen and a piece of paper! Add Annabelle: Creation to your list of films where the second movie is better than the original! Only loosely tied in with the more critically acclaimed Conjuring franchise, Annabelle was mediocre at best, paying more homage to Rosemary’s Baby than its original source material. Nothing wrong with the idea of alluding to the highly acclaimed Rosemary’s Baby, except it only succeeded in frustrating audiences since the plot never went in that direction. With a below average score on IMDB, fans of the genre were highly disappointed, with many giving the film the greatest insult by claiming it wasn’t scary.
Thankfully the sequel (which is actually a prequel) doesn’t also suffer from bland characters, plotting, and camera direction. Let’s just stop here for second and allow the news to actually sink in… The prequel to a horror movie spin-off, is actually a decent film. Yeah, this doesn’t happen very often in the world of cinema! Annabelle: Creation had everything going against it (I certainly didn’t go into the theater with high expectations), but director David F. Sandberg is very adept at storytelling and the tropes of this genre.
From a technical standpoint, Annabelle: Creation is brilliant. It’s beautifully lit; I’m sure the gaffers had a lot of fun toying with the use of shadow. For the majority of the film, the characters are dressed in their nightgowns, which are so delicate and light against the hard, lifeless surfaces in the house. The building in question has an old timey feel that’s more rustic than creepy, which works well because sometimes the environment can be overdone in these types of movies. It actually feels like a livable home, which helps to establish the vibe of this newly created mismatched family, all before their space is invaded by something undesirable. The set design really does harken back to those classic, traditional haunted house movies – not with Gothic architecture, but with its creaky floorboards, dusty wooden textures, dumb waiters, extravagant dollhouses, and old-fashioned chair lifts.
David F. Sandberg is a director that knows how to play his audience. Using a shot or two or just crafty framing, in the first half of the film he manages to sneakily introduce all the little items that will later play a role when things really do take a turn for the worse. He could have easily transformed the story into a full-blown gore fest, but Sandberg knows the power of subtly and simply when to cut away.
The music rises in the right places, but never dominates, complimenting the overall mood created by all the other technical elements. Some of the sound effects feel too over the top, with door knocking sounding like an unearthly booming entity… Which is exactly what they were going for, but the sound echoes and reverberates so much so that it doesn’t sound like the creature is actually behind the door where it’s meant to be; what our ears are hearing doesn’t necessarily match up with the picture.
The most important ingredient when crafting a successful horror film, of course, is featuring characters that we actually care about. These orphans aren’t related to each other, but they do form a close-knit family, complete with pecking orders and petty squabbles. Some of the dialogue is on the nose, with the characters sounding unnecessarily harsh at times, but when the stakes are raised, the girls are quick to put aside their differences and genuinely care for each other. It feels natural. The best performances actually come from the two youngest characters, Lulu Wilson and Talitha Bateman. Lulu Wilson in particular seems to be a pro at this now, seemingly forever typecast in this genre. Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia offer fine performances, yet we’ve seen them in better roles, as they feel underutilized here.
Annabelle: Creation isn’t immune to having a few flaws. There are a lot of false jump scares. It’s cheap. Sandberg does have a little bit of trouble narrowing down his audience, pandering to those who enjoy atmospheric, eerie horrors, and those who like to jump in their seats with a jolt of adrenaline. Trying to appease both groups doesn’t always work, as he adds in scares when attempting to build up the tension, though he merely dissipates whatever suspense he created.
The film will also irritate those who work in medical fields. The movie features a character (Janice) that requires a leg brace and a single crutch in order to walk. Once again Hollywood hasn’t discovered that a single crutch or walking stick is needed on the unaffected side! You may also constantly wonder (and eventually be internally screaming) why on earth Janice can’t navigate stairs, considering she appears to be weight bearing and can even manage to bend down and pick up tiny scraps of paper. Screenwriter, Gary Dauberman, doesn’t appear to have consulted an occupational therapist before writing in a disabled character.
Now, it is at this point where I feel torn in two…
The film critic inside me says:
There is a moment in the film that greatly shifts the tone and ups the ante. The story stops playing around with mystery and suspense, and quickly becomes violent and murderous, where a serious threat to be reckoned with emerges. It’s to the point where it nearly changes sub-genre to a slasher. No other film in the franchise has dared to go this far, or rather, down this direction.
It’s refreshing and yet cliché. There’s nothing new in watching the story get sidelined while characters run around, trying not to get killed in the third act. Yet it’s different because haunted house movies, particularly ones from yesteryear, habitually take forever build up suspense, only to have no payoff. They have a tendency to feel underwhelming. Not so with Annabelle: Creation! The safety wheels have been torn off and carnage is unleashed. Once again Sandberg is trying to appeal to all types of horror fans by covering as many bases as possible, but in doing so, I believe many people will leave the cinema satisfied. It follows the usual tropes while also upending expectations.
The Christian inside says:
That same moment in the film is also when I mentally switched off. Before then, Annabelle: Creation was shaping up to be a great allegory concerning the spiritual battles Christians face. There’s a lot of talk about how being weak in the body doesn’t equate to being weak in faith. It set up a certain theme and expectation.
On top of this, the Conjuring universe (yep, that’s a thing now) is based around the concept of good vs. evil, Christians vs. demons, where God trumps all. Not only is the latter part in particular theologically correct, but it’s also part of the rules established in this new film universe (because apparently every studio needs a universe these days). Only the Armor of God can fend off a demon, yet in Annabelle: Creation this doesn’t happen. It’s the equivalent of a vampire suddenly being immune to being staked in the heart with no explanation provided.
If the Christians showed weakness in faith, or the demon was crafty and through deceit managed to gain a foothold, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this. This is what occurs in The Witch where the family unit breaks down due to their own paranoia. But no such thing is shown in Annabelle: Creation. As a result, with the traditional weapons no longer taking affect, the demon feels all-powerful and omnipresent; it just seems cruel and empty to pit defenseless humans against such an entity. It becomes thematically boring. To make matters worse, after a horrendous night filled with everyone just struggling to stay alive, the cops arrive and suddenly everyone’s safe. It’s laughable.
As someone who has experienced demonic oppression before, where these types of movies only now serve to remind me how blessed I am to have Christ, I loathe the idea that some people will leave the cinema with the impression that God is ineffective against the spirits of darkness. If you don’t have a strong Christian worldview to counteract the incorrect theology presented in this film, then I cannot in good conscience recommend it.
But back to the film critic!
If you are going to watch it, then yes, watching Annabelle is your homework. It’s really a shame that this film needs to link in with such a technically bad movie. But without seeing its predecessor, you won’t appreciate the glorious creativity displayed in the last five minutes. Upon walking in, I never expected that Annabelle: Creation would be the linchpin to the entire Conjuring universe thus far. That finale is jaw-droppingly good! It establishes the timeline and sets up a few future movies along the way. Marvel, DC, take note!
There’s a scene during and after the credits. Be sure to stick around to the end.

Positives

+ Technically brilliant. + Last five minutes links EVERYTHING! It's amazing. + It goes where no other film in the franchise has gone before. + You actually feel something for the characters. + It's better than Annabelle.

Negatives

- Cheap jump scares. - Theologically inconsistent; the demon is too powerful. - Girl, I don't know what the doctor told you, but you can totally climb up and down those stairs! - Dangerous message.

The Bottom Line

7/10 is my average score. Annabelle: Creation does its job. It’s certainly not a bad film. However, even with its strong technical execution and clever finale, its theological misrepresentation and one too many clichés prevents it from being considered in the same league as the heavyweights in the genre. There are better films, but you can certainly do worse.

 

6.9

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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