Annabelle: Creation

Annabelle: Creation ★★★

If this is going to be a trend with mainstream studio horrors – whereby the prequel to a critical dud is helmed by a far more competent and inventive filmmaker – then it’s a definite positive. Along with last year’s Ouija: Birth of Evil, Annabelle: Creation is an improvement on 2014’s Annabelle (itself a prequel to The Conjuring) – if only by a minor but notable degree.

David F. Sandberg, director of last year’s Lights Out, knows his way around the creepy household environment of the film. He and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre keep things measured and controlled with an aesthetic in keeping with the previous films in the series. There’s some occasionally neat camera work that establishes the setting and encroaching atmosphere, and he’s a workman-like talent who knows where to direct the audiences gaze and attention even if he’s not too distinctive of a voice just yet.

It’s a traditionally told story with a practical structure, but its attachments to The Conjuring series is a part of its weakness. Fitting into the James Wan school of methodology when approaching horror movie making, the scares are loud and expectedly staged with traditional scary imagery such as eerie dolls, cloaked figures and elaborately made-up demon designs. There’s very little subtly, but there are moments where it counts even if the inner rules of the world don’t seem to make much consistent sense.

Ultimately it’s the generic narrative that lets it down, with unreasonable character motivations undercutting it’s supposedly emotionally driven storyline concerning the grieving parents (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) in their attempts to reconnect with their deceased daughter, Annabelle.

What keeps the attention though are the two young stars in Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson (who was also in Ouija: Birth of Evil). Both of them are genuinely great in their roles with sympathetic and animated performances, with Lulu Wilson especially bringing so much range out of her limited characterisation. They fare significantly better than their young peers and some of the older members of the cast, but Miranda Otto does well with her underused role as the bedridden mother.

It’s overly conventional and tired at times, but to be fair better is better. When Annabelle: Creation lets its two young and bright-eyed stars lead it really stands out. It still falters in many of the places it should matter as an authentic horror picture, but it fits into the established universe nicely and bodes well for future spin-offs.