Annabelle was released the year after The Conjuring and was a cash-grab spin-off that took a potentially interesting character—in this case, a creepy doll—and showcased it in a bland, jump startle-fest of a horrible movie. It was laughably bad. So imagine the surprise that comes from Annabelle: Creation, which isn’t great but is nowhere near as bad as its predecessor. It’s more than tolerable, and at times it’s even quite fun. How crazy is that?
You might note that this is now the second time that a terrible movie has been improved upon in a prequel. Ouija: Origin of Evil did the same thing. What did both movies do in order to get better? They got good directors to make them. The Ouija prequel hired Mike Flanagan, who has a good track record, and our Annabelle prequel brought on board David F. Sandberg. His only previous feature is Lights Out, which was really solid, and now he’s delivered with his sophomore outing, too. (The two films are also linked by an actor, Lulu Wilson, so maybe she’s a key, too.)
Annabelle: Creation takes place almost exclusively in and around the home of the Mullins. Mr. and Mrs. Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) live on a reclusive bit of land and 12 years earlier had a young daughter. She died, Mrs. Mullins wound up with a “condition” that has left her bedridden, and Mr. Mullins has done his best to keep afloat. He makes—or, more correctly, made—porcelain dolls. Now, the couple has decided to allow girls and a nun from an orphanage to move into their home, which is far too big for them.
The film centers on a couple of the girls, Janice and Linda (Talitha Bateman and the aforementioned Lulu Wilson). Janice suffers from polio and walks around with a crutch. The two hope to someday be adopted together. That’s the extent we learn about their characters. It doesn’t matter, I guess. Soon enough, the Annabelle doll you expect to be present is discovered. It plays pranks for a couple of scenes and then gets right down to business: it wants a human soul. And it’ll go to great lengths to get one.
Annabelle: Creation is a perfectly serviceable horror movie with a fun second half that will satisfy anyone who just wants to get startled and watch technically accomplished filmmaking.
That, in and of itself, is a pretty big improvement over the last Annabelle film, which consisted primarily of the doll trying to scare either the characters or the audience. This time, it has a goal and goes after it. Now that we know it can do that, it kind of makes Annabelle feel even sillier, right? What was the last prequel to make the film it’s chronologically preceding retroactively worse?
But, yeah, after 45 minutes of setup, Annabelle: Creation gets to the scares and doesn’t stop until the credits roll. That part of the movie is pretty fun. There are lots of jump startles but the anticipation to them creates a lot of suspense and there’s so much polished, technically sound filmmaking on display that you can’t help but applaud what you’re seeing. It’s not too terribly violent—there are a couple of scenes that grant it its R rating—but it does the job and will frighten audience members who are able to be scared during movies. At worst, it’ll make you jump a couple of times and give you a few memorable scenes.
The time it spends setting up doesn’t give us much to work with, character-wise, and winds up feeling like it wastes a lot of its opportunity. It’s not insufferable but it’s not good and doesn’t give us much reason to care about what happens to its characters once the doll hits the fan. It’s much like the first Conjuring in this sense, except that was still a better film with more to think about. Annabelle: Creation is pretty empty-headed, which ultimately is only a deterrent for people who care about such things (read: not most people going to see a movie about a killer doll).
Annabelle: Creation is a perfectly serviceable horror movie with a fun second half that will satisfy anyone who just wants to get startled and watch technically accomplished filmmaking. If you want strong characters or anything of consequence to chew on intellectually, you’re in the wrong place. If its first half was better, Annabelle: Creation would be really solid. As it is? It’s decent! And way, way better than the first Annabelle.
Conclusion: Annabelle: Creation isn’t bad. That’s a big accomplishment.
Recommendation: Annabelle: Creation is worth seeing if all you care about are the scares and you couldn’t care less about good characters or engaging your brain.