Annabelle: Creation is the prequel to a prequel of an ongoing franchise of interconnected paranormal movies. David F. Sandberg, whose directorial debut was the impressive Lights Out, takes what should have been a shameless cash grab and turns it into a horror film worthy of the Conjuring brand.
At its core, Annabelle: Creation follows the basics of what makes for an entertaining horror film with scattered, inventive moments. Like The Conjuring movies, it understands what horror fans want and expect: the jump scares rely on misdirecting your eye, the camera floats across the haunted house with spectral ease, and the audience watches from afar through the eyes of a supernaturally inclined surrogate.
Differing from the prequel spin-off Anabelle (2014), this expansion of the story is actually an ensemble, as it follows a group of young orphan girls who take residence in the dilapidated mansion of a dollmaker and his recluse wife in the 1950s. One of Creation‘s quirks is in how freely it jumps perspectives, lending emotional weight to more than just one curious character who comes across the house’s horrors. The house in Creation is set up like its own version of a dollhouse, a consistent prop in the story that is one of many flourishes to an already rich environment of spooky playthings. Characters move in and out of rooms, exploring the secrets of the story and quickly coming across the doll.
That’s not to say Annabelle: Creation is always lean and efficient. There are one too many sidetracked set pieces that feel like excuses to remind us of other spin-offs in the works based on The Conjuring mythos. It almost starts to feel like the decisions that make Creation feel somewhat original at times are based off of shared universe necessities, rather than standalone storytelling. And the movie itself could stand to lose at least 20 minutes, pushing believability a bit too far with how willing these characters are to suffer through some genuinely traumatic scenes and keep coming back for more.
But that’s a testament to how consistently scary Creation really manages to be over the course of 109 minutes, and that is in part paid off by a great cast. Janice, played by Talitha Bateman, is the standout for much of the film as the polio survivor who stumbles across the paranormal surprises early on out of what seems to be boredom. Stephanie Sigman plays the nun caretaker of the girls and is an effective lynchpin of the film’s biggest scares. Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto are given a bit less to do aside from deliver expository dialogue and simply exist as the plot rages on.
The fun of Creation truly is in how creepy it is, as most of the loud and bombastic crescendos of the final act end up being the most forgettable. It’s not an artistically interesting film with something unique to say about the genre or fear itself like some of the best horror films out these days, but it’s not aiming for those heights, either. It’s a well-crafted distraction that will offer up an entertaining—and tense—night out for casual horror fans.