Annabelle: Creation (2017) – Review

Here’s the thing: I’m just not that into origin stories. That doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad or that there aren’t good ones out there, but for every Godfather Part 2 there’s an Alien: Covenant. Too often it’s an area of cinema derived from the desire to sell tickets rather than an artistic yearning to tell a story, so it’s no surprise how much disappointment and frustration there is to be found with the endless retconning and unnecessary gap-plugging.

Hollywood’s in love with them because they’re an excuse to make more money on the same title, but why must we always know where the monster comes from? Isn’t the mystery intriguing? Isn’t the lack of motive scarier? Insidious 2 & 3 serve as fine examples of the diminished impact origin stories can create – the creepiest element of the first film is given so much back story that, particularly by #3, the effect just vanishes.

There’s also the fact that Annabelle: Creation is the fourth film in what is being called ‘The Conjuring Cinematic Universe’ – another Hollywood fixation. Everything just has to be connected at the moment, narrative threads running back and forth between various films, and that approach of trying to fit everything into everything else can so easily prove problematic.

And yet, while I’m saying all this, I’m waiting to get to the part where I can say Annabelle: Creation isn’t at all problematic for being part of a (frankly very good) horror universe, or because its very title is suffixed with a direct “origin” synonym (when I first saw it I sighed heavily and prayed not to be disappointed – apparently it worked). Yes, Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to a prequel, but it works because it generally avoids the typical pitfalls of skewing itself to fit into future plots we’ve already seen; it works because it treats itself as a stand-alone horror flick which just wants to scare its audience. I enjoyed Annabellebut it was always trying to be The Conjuring’s little sister, and it probably suffered from the comparison.

It’s a pretty typical set-up: set a decade before Annabelle, in the 50s, Creation sees a nun (not that nun) and a group of orphans supplanting themselves in the huge, creaky, rural home of a doll maker and his wife (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto), who tragically lost their daughter years earlier (whose name happened to be Annabelle). Naturally, one night one of the girls stumbles into a room she’s not supposed to, and scary, demonic things begin happening around the old house.

And it works. There are no hidden intricacies or nuances as to why – it just works because it’s creepy. The scares are handled effectively and the atmosphere cranks steadily upwards. Director David F. Sandberg, who did some interesting things with Lights Out last year, continues with a somewhat disciplined approach of not just yelling at the audience to scare them. There are some very Hollywood scares in here – including one particularly poor CGI moment which threatens to undermine – but they’re never cheap, and ultimately it’s effective enough to produce that coveted chill down the spine. In fewer words, this movie is genuinely spooky at times.

There’s also a certain maturity to the film which I think is important in horror; an understanding of what’s actually scary and what’s just loud noises, as well as an understanding that characters are actually important. That’s why The Conjuring works so well: its characters are relatable and well-formed. We care about their fate when the threats kick in. The cast of characters in Creation may not be especially memorable, but they’re good to spend time with and interesting enough to care about.


Verdict:

There’s a lot to be said for inventive, standalone, original horror movies in this mad cinematic universe climate. If Annabelle: Creation isn’t that on paper, there’s a sense that it’s trying to be, or at the very least understands the beats of the genre. This is a horror movie which genuinely wants to scare its audience, and in a large part, it succeeds.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

  • Gloria Prema

    Eddy’s reviews are more entertaining than many of the films he writes about. Another Barry Norman in the making.