‘Annabelle: Creation’ is what nightmares are made of
David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation does everything almost right up until it unspools into the chaotic mess that most possession movies erupt into. The good thing here is that by the time the film speeds into the conclusion that ties it up with the opening sequence of John R. Leonetti’s subpar Annabelle (2014), the film has already managed to earn its keep with its elegant scares that rely more on a creepy mood than cheap shocks.
Perhaps the first clever thing that Annabelle: Creation does is to eschew the typical suburban settings of most recent horror films for something more suspiciously unfamiliar such as a secluded solitary house somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
The film opens cheerfully enough. Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) finishes work on a limited series of dolls that he’ll be selling at the local department store before engaging his daughter (Samara Lee) in a game of hide and seek. Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto) joins the fun, painting a picture of bliss that will predictably shatter. The tragedy happens when the beloved little girl is run over by a speeding car, abruptly ending the film’s very blithe prologue with a sequence that quietly perturbs because of its blunt willingness to disrupt the fragile peace with a random but brutal accident of a child.
In the guise of establishing the family’s history of relative peace and quiet, Sandberg is establishing key pieces to his horror show – the slipped pieces of paper that Samuel’s daughter uses to initiate her game with her dad is used later on with more nefarious consequences, the jazzy melody that the daughter prefers as her nightly lullaby, and the affinity to toys that culminates with the largely effective disquieting presence of the infamous doll.
Nothing is safe
Even after its opening when the film has introduced the nun (Stephanie Sigman) and her underage wards, Sandberg insists on planting seemingly innocent seeds for future frights – the mechanical elevator that will slowly but surely transport its passenger up and down the house’s ornate staircase or the dubious well a few hundred meters away from the main house.
All the efforts pay off.
Annabelle: Creation does not rush to mine its several plots. Instead, it savors the seduction, allowing itself to establish a certain atmosphere where nothing is safe. It helps that the film is essentially told from the perspective of children, whose weakness for careless games and other curiosities allow the film a certain leeway with its excesses and illogic, helping underline vulnerabilities from which Sandberg draws much of his horrors. There is a lot of darkness and a number of visual tricks that thrive on shadows that successfully arouse subtle dread.
The film falters when it decides to speed everything up, choosing to expedite matters with a sudden exposition that betrays Sandberg’s penchant for more measured and calculated storytelling. From there, Annabelle: Creation just goes awry, attacking in all directions, devolving into a chaotic mess of frenzied chases and scares that are more reminiscent of what made the first Annabelle film such a misfire than the delicious and precise mood-making Sandberg has mostly busied himself with during the first half of the feature.
Nevertheless, Annabelle: Creation satisfies. There’s enough effective horror in it to keep one wanting for more. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.