The silences are what you dread in Annabelle: Creation. Whenever there is a lull in the storytelling, you always know that the next jolt is about to be felt. The film is very effective in giving its audience the collywobbles, which is precisely what they want from a story like this. They know that they’re being strung along and grossly manipulated but that is part of the pleasure.
This is the prequel to 2014’s Annabelle. It deliberately takes its time in cranking up. The early scenes portray a family living an idyllic life in dusty, Midwestern 1940s America. Doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) dotes on his beautiful young daughter. They play hide and seek together. “Find me,” she writes on little scraps of paper as they track one another round the big, draughty old house.
Gary Dauberman’s script plays with our expectations, preparing us for shocks that (at first) don’t always come. The film is also surprisingly picturesque. The filmmakers pay exhaustive attention to period detail. We may be in post-war America but Mullins’ home, with all its dolls, its wooden floors and high ceilings, has a Victorian feel.
After the slow and tasteful build-up, it’s only a matter of time until the bloodletting begins in earnest. Even then, the supernatural elements are initially kept in check. Who needs an evil doll when you can splatter characters onto the road in freak car accidents?
The film’s plot doesn’t bear much scrutiny. For reasons that no one even begins to explain, 12 years after Mullins and his sickly wife (Miranda Otto) suffer a grievous bereavement, a bus full of Catholic orphan girls and a Romanian nun, Sister Charlotte (the improbably glamorous Stephanie Sigman), turns up on their doorstep.
The girls are delighted with their new home, even if they are a bit suspicious of a door that remains locked and of a dumb waiter that has a nasty habit of shooting up and down of its own accord.
As if to make up for the relative subtlety of the early scenes, director David F Sandberg soon moves into full Grand Guignol mode. It’s no longer a matter of creaking doors as he cheerily veers off in an Exorcist-like direction. The little girl most likely to become possessed is Janice (played with plenty of gumption and intelligence by Talitha Bateman).
She is a precocious young teenager who has her leg in a brace. Physically, at least, she is the weakest of the orphans. “She mustn’t go near that doll,” she is warned… advice which, of course, she completely ignores.
Once the doll is out of the cupboard and up to its murderous misdeeds, any meaningful efforts at telling a coherent story are abandoned. The only intention of the film from this point onwards is to scare us rotten. The devil doll has such powers that not even crucifixes or ancient prayers can keep it in check.
“What do you need,” one orphan naively asks. “Your soul,” comes the inevitable hissed rejoinder. Nor is the evil-doing confined to night time. Some of the eeriest scenes here take place in full daylight.
The filmmakers are very inventive in the way they use everything they can find in the old house and the farmyard, whether scarecrows, Punch and Judy figures or axes, to induce terror. Whenever matters are at their most fraught, we’ll hear the deceptively reassuring sound of country song “You are my sunshine” on the ancient record player. The film is very democratic in its bloodletting. There is no compunction about killing off even the most major characters.
Annabelle: Creation is a prequel. A little confusingly, at the end of the story, we are suddenly whisked forward to Charles Manson-era Los Angeles (the setting of the original Annabelle film). The doll is as potent in its murderous mischief in the final reel as at the beginning – so she is bound to be back. There will be plenty who will take a masochistic pleasure in seeing her return as soon as possible.
David F Sandberg, 108 mins, starring: Miranda Otto, Philippa Coulthard, Stephanie Sigman, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Anthony LaPaglia, Talitha Bateman
Source: Written by at the independent