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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to 2014's Annabelle, which itself was a prequel to 2013's The Conjuring.  It's about a group of young girls who are unfortunate enough to be orphans to begin with, but then become even more unfortunate when they are forced to reside in a ramshackle old house in the middle of nowhere with a shady old man who's obviously hiding his share of secrets, and his poor wife, who has been bedridden since an accident and is forced to wear a mask over part of her face which makes her look like the Phantom of the Opera.  Oh, and the Annabelle doll is in the house too, and anyone who has seen the previous movies knows that is never good news.  Honestly, these girls would have been better off in the Amityville Horror house.

As horror films go, this one has its effective moments.  Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) likes to squeeze as much atmosphere as he can out of every scene, and he gets off some nice scenes that use shadow and figures moving about just out of frame of the camera.  But, it's kind of hard to take it all that seriously when the heroes in this movie act solely by the long-held cliches of the genre, and make one bad decision after another.  I'm not sure how much time is supposed to have passed during the events, but these girls seem oddly determined to hang around this house that is clearly haunted by a demonic entity that wants to possess them, rather than catch the next bus back to civilization.  The creepy and ghostly encounters start up almost as soon as the group of young girls set foot inside, but they never once ask an adult, or avoid walking alone down the house's many dark and secret passageways.  By the time somebody finally says what I had been thinking the whole movie ("Come on, girls, we're getting out of here."), it's far too late to do any good.

As the title suggests, this film tells us the origin story of the demonic Annabelle doll, and how it came to be so evil.  I'm sure this is a question only Warner Bros. executives wanted answered, after the last Annabelle movie had a $37 million opening weekend.  It opens with a prologue set in the 1940s, where a toy-maker father (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto) lose their sweet little daughter (Samara Lee) in a tragic accident.  Flash forward 12 years later, and the event obviously still haunts the couple.  Or maybe it's something else that's haunting them.  The husband is full of closely guarded secrets, and his wife is now bedridden, with part of her face disfigured for reasons unknown through most of the movie.  Regardless, they open their home to some girls from a Catholic orphanage who arrive with their guardian, the kindly Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman).

Of the six girls who arrive, the two youngest are the ones that the film focuses on.  They are best friends Janice (Talitha Bateman), whose leg is in a brace after a bout with Polio, and Linda (Lulu Wilson from Ouija: Origin of Evil).  They arrive clutching their sweet little dolls, and promising one another that they will be adopted together one day, so they can be sisters.  It does not take very long for the supernatural manifestations to start popping up.  Heck, their first night in the home, Janice is following crayon-written notes that lead her to a closed off room where the creepy Annabelle doll starts messing with her almost immediately.  I did admire how the movie handled the doll.  We never actually see it move, but it will either appear in a place it's not supposed to be, or its head will suddenly be facing a different direction than the last time we saw it moments ago.  The boarded-up room contains a haunted dollhouse, puppets that move about on their own, and a closet that has various pages of the Bible covering the walls within, complete with holy crosses.  That alone should be an instant clue that "something bad happened here", but Janice and Linda unwisely decide to play Junior Detectives, and investigate further.

The creepy stuff piles up, including a spooky scarecrow out in the barn, and a demonic figure that sometimes takes the form of the couple's dead daughter, and tells the young girls that it wants their souls.  And yet, not once do Janice and Linda tell Sister Charlotte what's going on, or maybe start asking questions to the couple who own the house.  Sure, maybe they wouldn't believe them, but wouldn't you at least ask or talk about these things if they were happening to you?  By the time they finally do start opening up about what's going on, one of the two girls has become possessed by the demonic entity, and is walking around the dark halls with a knife while ominously singing "You Are My Sunshine".  These are people who know they're in a horror movie.  They intentionally do the wrong thing time and again in order for there to be a movie in the first place.  Apparently the house and the surrounding grounds knows it's in a horror movie also.  The lighting and electricity is faulty, and the car won't start when danger's afoot.

And then there are the inexplicable moments, like where Linda drops the cursed doll down a well and starts to leave, only to immediately walk back to the well seconds later and stick her head down.  Why?  So creepy black hands can suddenly reach up and try to pull her down, of course!  I don't know if I missed something, but I could see no reason for her to do this.  So, while the film is filled with creepy atmosphere and a few effective jump scares, I was never completely involved.  A great horror movie makes you sympathize with the characters.  All this movie made me want to do was give the people within it a clue.  Annabelle: Creation has obviously been made by professionals of the genre, but they're also not really doing anything new here.  There's nothing that we haven't seen in other haunted house movies, so while I was admiring the craft and skill, it still felt a little bit empty.

However, the Annabelle franchise is a brand name with horror fans, and I'm sure this will make enough money to warrant another haunting.  There are even more spinoffs of The Conjuring on the way that take place outside of the Annabelle universe.  I can only hope that those other movies will realize what makes The Conjuring movies so successful, which is that we are invested with the people as much as we are the supernatural events going on around them. 

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