Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker's possessed creation, Annabelle.
August 11th, 2017
I think it says a great deal about the quality of a film and the quality of its overall construction – that I can visit the set (almost a year ago) – write a detailed account of that experience and then sit down to watch the finished film – in this case, a special advance screening of Annabelle: Creation as part of the line-up at this year’s LA Film Fest – and still be able to lose myself in the story, characters and most of all, the scares.
Sure, for the first 10 minutes – I was making note of places where I had stepped, things I had seen and touched and remembered the bench where I sat for a lovely moment with Annabelle herself. But once the story sets in and the characters take hold – the memories of my glorious first set visit on behalf of HFN – were forgotten.
Director David Sandberg has done it again. His excellent Lights Out from last year (check out my full review) made it into my Top 15 Horror Feature Films for 2016 – and it seems like you can bet on finding Annabelle: Creation in the running for that distinction at the end of this year.
Mr. and Mrs. Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto; respectively) have lost their beloved daughter Bee. Years after the tragedy, in order to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, they allow a failing orphanage and its six girls to take up residence in the home, with Sister Charlotte (Spectre’s Stephanie Sigman) in charge of these girls – ranging in age from late teens down to about 10 years old. The two central children – Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (LuLu Wilson) share a special bond. But once this group arrives at the house – strange things begin to occur – specifically behind the closed (and supposed to be locked) door of what was once Bee’s room. And within that room is Bee’s special doll made by her father (Mr. Mullins is a doll-maker by trade) – a little doll we all know as Annabelle. Frightening events in the house start to occur more frequently and with more intensity.
These are all terrific performances from the entire cast – but Talitha Bateman and LuLu Wilson are the true marvels here. There’s a beautiful chemistry between these two gifted young actresses and they are the heart of the film. And in a movie with continuous frights – it’s a real gift to have that lovely beating heart and to share some quiet moments with these two characters. They talk continuously about wanting to find good homes and hopefully one home together, so they “can be real sisters”. And when Janice begins to take the brunt of the danger in the house – she must sleep in the living room downstairs. There’s a touching scene as Linda says good night (before returning to their bedroom alone) and they reminisce about their old orphanage and stealing chocolate treats. Even writing about it now – I’m getting choked up. Bateman and Wilson nail the scene, they nail the relationship (lovingly written by Gary Dauberman – screenwriter of the original Annabelle) and they nail their overall performances. Based on the really amazing work from both actresses and based on the adorable characters they create (there is absolute sympathy for these little ladies)… Hell, I’ll adopt them both!
And frankly, with all their talk of being together and Janice reassuring Linda she’ll be the first adopted – the film’s ending is terribly heartbreaking – when it’s not just plain terrifying, of course.
RELATED ARTICLE: HFN VISITS THE SET OF ANNABELLE: CREATION
Now – what you hungry horror fans really want to know… IS IT SCARY? Yes. Yes it is.
Like Sandberg’s Lights Out – it’s an almost non-stop onslaught of “boo” moments and I can’t think of one jump which missed its mark. And even this old horror war-horse jumped at all of them. In fact – I actually gasped at one. Yup. Of course, I’m trying to remember which moment was the one to really get under my skin – and I can’t. Maybe I’m just repressing it. Despite some of the darker things which take place (the film is an R – which may be a bit harsh), you’ll still be laughing at every one of those jumps (post initial fright, of course). And trust me when I say that you should see it with a large audience. The preview screening we were a part of – there was an immense energy to the experience – everyone feeding off of every else’s ridiculousness and fear.
And speaking of that fear – there are several scenes which Sandberg uses to play off of childhood fears – but the most powerful was the “bunk-bed” scene. I had bunk-beds growing up, and so this particularly harrowing moment for one of the characters – really hit home. And it was vaguely reminiscent of the original Poltergeist. Well done!
There are a couple of sequences (heck, more than that) which will last a long time in movie-goers memories. The bunk-bed scene of course and the first big reveal of Annabelle in a closet. My personal favorite involves the mechanical chair which ascends and descends the staircase. It was originally installed for Mrs. Mullins, and now with the arrival of the orphans, Janice (and her Polio-crippled leg) will be the one taking advantage of its services. Obviously, I won’t offer any spoilers (I’m not that kind of girl), but the entire sequence is breathless, terrifying and with a truly stunning and unexpected coda to wrap it up. I friggin’ LOVED this scene!
Several lovely moments connect this story to the bigger universe of The Conjuring. They’re all spoilers, so I can’t say a word – but oh my, how I want to. Okay – I’ll sort of vaguely describe some. A photograph owned by Sister Charlotte. Okay – that doesn’t give anything away. And let’s see – um – let’s just say that if you read my set visit report, you’ll recall that costume designer Leah Butler threw this doozy out there (and then caught herself): “I’m pulling out some of the original Annabelle dresses that we used in the first movie. That’s gonna end up in this movie too…” I’ll just let that tidbit of information stew in your brains for a bit.
Knowing how detailed all of the sets were when I visited them – it’s a wonder to see them so alive on-screen. As I watched the initial tour of the house (Mr. Mullins takes the girls around the house when they first arrive) I was struck most by the lighting. The sun’s rays beating down through the windows and the very real dust lingering in the air – it’s a perfect illusion, especially since I saw what is actually on the other side of those detailed window designs. Filmmaking is a really cool thing, yo – and all of the work (from each of the art departments) which went into this set – is worthy of nothing but praise. And it’s all up there on the screen.
There are a couple of things I noted – not as “bad” per se – but things which – for my money – could have been improved upon. There are six orphan girls – and I think there is strength in numbers and having four of those girls in a clique – leaving Linda and Janice on their own much of the time – makes perfect sense in the story. But two of the girls (the middle two) basically had nothing to do. Janice and Linda are center-stage, while Carol (Grace Fulton) and Nancy (Philippa Coulthard) have actual scenes to themselves and a bit more character development. The two middle girls served little purpose.
My other slight beef is the place in the film/story where the big reveal occurs. At the point it lands, where Sister Charlotte and Mrs. Mullins lay it all out on the table and through flashback we learn how this evil came to be in this house and this doll – is smack-dab in the craziness of the climax. It’s all necessary exposition and certainly interesting, but it’s like a giant “screech” of a car slamming on its brakes. This is the only true misstep I found in the film – but it’s kind of a biggie – messing with the strength and break-neck pace of the final act. No bueno.
And if you’d like to know, I think this film is superior to the original. I know that the first film had a lot of detractors – but I actually enjoyed it a great deal. But what it amounted to was nothing more than a typical “woman-in-peril” exercise. The sequel is unique in that is has so many additional personalities (all in a protagonist role) and the presence of an almost automatic sympathy for small children (not that these young actors didn’t work for it) gives it some extra oomph. The original Annabelle was fun and frightening to be sure, but this sequel has what that film didn’t – and that puts it in a higher echelon of quality – it’s got that aforementioned “beating heart”.
A couple of fun bits of trivia – Pet Sematary’s Brad Greenquist (“Pascow”) makes a cameo. And Alicia Vela-Bailey (“Diana” of Lights Out) appears as Evil Mrs. Mullins.
Now. Is Annabelle: Creation the best horror film ever made? No. But you have to give credit where credit is due. This film is entertaining, it’s fun, it’s beautifully produced, acted and directed. The sets are stunning. The pace is almost perfect.
And most of all – let me reiterate that David Sandberg once again proves that he knows how to push all of your buttons – offering up a go-get-‘em, laugh-at-yourself terror ride through the creation of a now-beloved horror figure. Annabelle: Creation simply does what it set out to do – it scares you. It works.
Annabelle: Creation will have its wide release on August 11th, 2017.