The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


 Party Doll 

Anthony LaPaglia
Anthony LaPaglia
Warner Brothers
 109 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto 
Annabelle: Creation

Perhaps the greatest horror movie scene of all time, the shower scene in Psycho, was carefully constructed by Alfred Hitchcock using an elaborate sequence of storyboards created by legendary title designer Saul Bass (some people think Bass actually directed the scene). Hitchcock isn’t around today, and, despite a plethora of horror films being released each year, most directors of today show little inclination to plan scenes beyond maximizing the gore and gross-out factor as much as possible. So, it came as a pleasant surprise for me to watch Annabelle: Creation, a movie containing at least a half dozen elaborately constructed scenes that produced quite a few shrieks from the audience with whom I saw the movie.


Annabelle: Creation is the latest in a loosely connected series of horror movies from producer James Wan, who, ironically, has done something Universal completely botched earlier this year with The Mummy, namely creating a viable horror film universe. Wan has either produced, directed, or written three Insidious films, two Conjuring films, and, now, a second Annabelle movie. Not surprisingly, the quality of these movies has varied greatly. Very surprisingly, Annabelle: Creation is the best of the lot, especially considering that it is a prequel to 2014’s dreadful Annabelle, probably the worst of the lot.


For those new to the franchise, about the only thing viewers need to know is that Annabelle, a two-foot tall doll with a face reminiscent of Karen Black when possessed by the devil doll in Trilogy of Terror, is indeed a devil doll, possessed by demonic forces that will wreak havoc years later in the earlier release, Annabelle. This prequel attempts to explain how that came to pass, although no explanation was really necessary. It seems that kindly dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) made the doll in the 1940’s for his own daughter named, by an odd coincidence, Annabelle. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, daughter Annabelle was hit by a car and killed right in front of Mullins and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto).


Fast forward a dozen years and the Mullins, who have been recluses ever since the accident, decide to open up their house to a group of orphans under the care of kindly, spunky Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). The orphans have been booted out of their now closed orphanage and, as Sister Charlotte reminds them on multiple occasions, the creepy Mullins house in the middle of nowhere is the only place they have left to go. So, the orphans decide to make the best of it, although Janice (Talitha Bateman), a polio victim who has difficulty getting around, gets the willies just seeing the place.


Of course, Janice’s fears are justified, since as soon as the orphans settle in, bad things start to happen. Some of these involve Annabelle, whom Janice discovers when she explores the bedroom of the Mullins’ deceased daughter after having been told the room was off limits. Others involve things that lurk in the dark, or a scarecrow that comes to life, or something that comes out of a well, or demons that possess people. Naturally, the most frequent targets of all the creepy goings on are the two youngest orphans, Janice and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson).


The best movies about the occult operate under consistent rules that don’t vary throughout the course of the film, as in The Exorcist. By contrast, director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Gary F. Dauberman seem to be making up the backstory as they go in Annabelle: Creation. That’s not really a bad thing. When a genre film works, viewers go along with it and enjoy the experience rather than question any plot inconsistencies. And Annabelle: Creation works most of the time.


The credit for the effectiveness of Annabelle: Creation goes primarily to director Sandberg. Each fright scene is meticulously laid out (like the one shown below), using light and shadow carefully to control what the audience sees. And, while he uses a few traditional jump scares, in other scenes, he lets the audience see exactly what is going to cause the scare, then waits to build up suspense before the big reveal.


Sandberg also takes full advantage of props in his fright scenes. In addition to the obvious doll itself, he builds other scenes around a dumbwaiter, a chairlift, or a very deep well. In fact, one of the scariest scenes in the movie takes place outdoors in broad daylight, as a wheelchair-bound Janice finds herself drawn into a dusty barn in which something lurks.


Of course, while each of these fright scenes individually is quite effective, none of them make logical sense, and, worse, the occult mythos that might explain these events isn’t consistent from one scene to the next. A better movie might simply have let things lie, but the filmmakers felt an explanation was necessary, so, about 20 minutes from the end of the film, Samuel Mullins delivers one in a lengthy information dump. At that point, Annabelle: Creation loses focus, and Sandberg throws everything but the kitchen sink at the audience in an overblown, hectic, confusing, and worse, not all that scary finale. The movie squanders a good bit of the atmosphere it has created in favor of effects-laden overkill.


Still, the movie’s weak ending, including a tie-in to the original Annabelle that isn’t fully consistent with the earlier movie’s premise, doesn’t take away from some extremely effective earlier film making. Thanks in good part to two talented juvenile actresses, Bateman and Wilson, whose characters are victimized in most of the scary sequences, and some very effective direction by Sandberg, Annabelle: Creation contains several of the scariest scenes I’ve seen all year. The movie doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and, worse, it gets downright silly when it actually tries to explain itself, but on a sheer visceral level, Annabelle: Creation delivers the goods over and over. David F. Sandberg has a bright future in horror, as judged by his latest creation.

In this scene, Talitha Bateman first meets Annabelle.

Read other reviews of Annabelle: Creation:


Annabelle: Creation (2017) on IMDb