Annabelle: Creation review: an unashamedly daft killer doll riot
Dir: David F. Sandberg; Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Talitha Bateman, Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Grace Fulton, Samara Lee. 15 cert; 109 mins.
The first thing to be said about Annabelle: Creation is that it’s a darn sight better than Annabelle, the 2014 chiller which took the demonic rag doll from the Conjuring series and used her as a gormless conduit for supernatural mayhem. Taken set-piece by set-piece, this one’s far more effective at giving you the kind of goose-bumpy working-over the creators are going for.
The second thing about this prequel-to-the-prequel is that the plotting is hand-to-mouth hilarious, and hardly worth dwelling on except for purposes of glee. It starts with toymaker Sam (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) contentedly raising their 12-year-old daughter Bee (Samara Lee) in an American Gothic farmhouse miles from anywhere. He tinkers with his dolls; they play hide-and-seek; Bee prances into the road and gets taken out by a speeding car.
To unpick the timeline, that’s when things get weird. The evil forces we’re expecting invade their house and disfigure Esther’s face horribly, ripping out her left eye and rendering her an invalid. Somehow these maraudings are tied to the particularly creepy doll that was fresh off the assembly line when Bee expired. But the best they can do to neutralise this evil is to lock the poppet in an upstairs cupboard, lining the inside of the door with ripped-out Bible verses to teach her a lesson.
Then they have a delightful brainwave: why not found an orphanage? The nun (Stephanie Sigman) and six girls they welcome in need know nothing of these antique horrors. Sure, they may notice that the lady of the household wears a porcelain mask and never leaves bed. But they won’t stray into the forbidden nursery and find the key to the cupboard of unspeakables cutely stashed in a doll’s house. That’s never going to happen. What an idyllic retreat this orphanage could be!
It’s hard to decide whether Annabelle: Creation gains or loses points for this immensely daft set of developments, but surprisingly little damage is done to the business of turning up the scare dial. Once Annabelle’s out of dodge, everything’s fair game – we get good, jittery sequences with a possessed stairlift, a possessed dumb-waiter, and a hideous sack-cloth scarecrow in the barn round back. Director David F. Sandberg imports the one good idea from his cynical debut Lights Out (2016) – a recurrent fear of the dark – and works it up with a horror-specialist cinematographer, Maxime Alexandre, who really knows what he’s doing here.
The film hits some solid emotional beats, too, with the sweet friendship between the two main girls (Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson), and LaPaglia's spent anguish, giving it a core of empathy that just about keeps you caring. Annabelle herself is usually an off-screen mistress of ceremonies, merely bringing on her guest-list of ghoulish allies – that scarecrow’s her main man – to do their individual bit. The film doesn’t ask too much of her, and this time – unlike every phase of Sam and Esther’s crackpot bereavement therapy – it’s a sensible move.