It’s Saturday night at the movies, and screen thirteen (coincidence?) is packed and buzzing for the late showing of ‘Annabelle: Creation’, the latest addition to the expanding ‘Conjuring’ franchise. ‘Lights Out’ skipper David F. Sandberg keeps to his niche alongside modern horror alum James Wan in the producers’ chair, telling the origin story of the supernatural’s favourite toy.

With the announcement of ‘The Crooked Man’ and ‘The Nun’, extensions from Wan’s paranormal coupling circulating around the true accounts of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s metaphysical investigations, ‘Creation’ has been considered the catalyst in establishing ‘The Conjuring’ universe, thrilling horror fans with their own terrifying rendition of the MCU. With the gears starting to turn, New Line Cinema had a lot riding on ‘Creation’ to possess the box office and prove that their plan to create their own universe would be a success. Thankfully, they might have just done that.

Annabelle: Creation’ puts our setting in 1958, introducing Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) as a doll maker who welcomes a group of six orphans and their carer, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), into his home while caring for his estranged wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), affected by the death of their daughter twelve years ago. Two of the youngest orphans, best friends Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (lulu Wilson), are quick to start exploring their new home, discovering a mysterious doll that unlocks secrets within the Mullins family that have malevolent repercussions.

Aficionados of the horror genre will notice the same formula being used throughout the storyline, but with credible differences. What gives ‘Creation’ merit is its attention to detail in establishing a rational origin story (for the most part) for the titular doll and its capability to startle viewers without too many of the cheap scare tactics; there is certainly credence in Sandberg and Wan for achieving this. We also have the usual suspects of a location set in isolation and aptly timed music crescendo’s, but the films ability to effectively animate an inanimate object without bringing Chucky to mind, keeps each frightening occurrence believable by deterring showing everything and relying on the audiences imagination to fill in the imagery.

Miranda Otto’s Esther was well cast and added a freshness to familiar grounds. It was just a pity that throughout the film her character received little screen time. However, Anthony LaPaglia’s Samuel could have been written with more vigour, freeing his character from the morose and monotone demeanour. Sister Charlotte merged well with the content and supplied a key scene giving a tip of the hat to ‘The Nun’ spin-off, while polio-stricken Janice flourished as protagonist. The remaining orphans could only be described as scene-fillers and time-wasters, sequences which could have involved more of Esther and Janice had the story been tweaked slightly. 

Opinions on ‘Annabelle: Creation’ have certainly divided audiences, with Camp A saying “Shit”, Camp B saying “Pretty good”, and the fleeting Camp C going as far as saying it’s better than both ‘Conjuring’ films. While I lie in Camp B, ‘Creation’ does have one major flaw. ‘The Conjuring’ 1 & 2 both work exceedingly well because of the gradual building of unease, the supply of characters we can invest in, and one powerhouse third act. While ‘Creation’ grinds tension and boasts authentic personalities, the third act falls flat and fails to deliver the desperation for survival. We’re expecting to see all hell break loose but too busy following all the characters that are experiencing separate torment, resulting in no sense of unity, the denouement being spread too thinly and an anti-climactic conclusion. That being said, ‘Creation’ certainly explores the realms of possibilities surrounding the enticement of sinister entities and meddling with the unknown, concluding in full circle to 2013’s ‘Annabelle’, but gratefully ten successful exorcisms away from John R. Leonetti’s flop.

DoP, Maxime Alexandre, harnessed the necessary ambiance to keep things creepy and retained a rustic colour tone for the duration to match the fifty’s era and the aged craftsmanship of Annabelle. Momentum carried ‘Creation’ fluidly for the most part, however, with a near first gear tempo in the third act and a buoyant script from ‘Annabelle’ and future ‘The Nun’ writer, Gary Dauberman, Sandberg’s weaknesses started to show. James Wan works intriguing energy and pace into his films that Sandberg couldn’t quite sustain.

Scoring a 68% on the Rotten Tomatometer and a 78% from audience scores, ‘Annabelle: Creation’ has become a dark horse of horror raking in just over £35 million at the box office over opening weekend, and becoming quite the comedy icon; numerous times the laughter from screen thirteen was both unexpected and distracting. Aside from the jittery mob and their squeals of “Jesus fucking Christ”, we have a solid fourth instalment to add to our ratified ghostly cosmos. We now turn our crucifixes to ‘The Conjuring 3’ and ‘The Crooked Man’ both of which have been announced, following ‘The Nun’ already in post-production.

While it’s possible that Chucky has now been replaced as horror’s favourite marionette, at least his killing sprees didn’t hide the final thrills until after the credits rolled; an MCU trait that seems to be contagious. Stay to the bitter end guys.

Jo’s rating: 6 out of 10             

Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Talitha Bateman