Annabelle: Creation review – conjuring up a doll’s house of horrors

Director David F Sandberg creates a spooky sense of dread, but the CGI monster is dull

Film Title: Annabelle: Creation

Director: David F Sandberg

Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 109 min

Wed, Aug 9, 2017, 00:00

   

Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a church-going, doll-making, devoted dad who lives in a palatial, remote, haunting-ready home with his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and beloved daughter Bee (Samara Lee) until the latter is killed in an automobile accident.

Twelve years later – the skirt hems suggest late 1950s or early 1960s – Samuel takes in a group of orphaned girls and their supervisor Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), a decidedly cool nun who appears to have originated from the Order of Foxy Brown.  

Her charges include plucky Janice (Hart of Dixie’s Talitha Bateman), who, having been struck by polio, may avail of the world’s spookiest chairlift to bring her to the upstairs bedroom inconveniently located beside The Locked Bedroom That May Never Be Opened. Except she does open it. And finds, well, the clue is in the title.

The Ghost Train flourishes keep coming: Downstairs, Esther never leaves her room, but instead summons her husband with a bell. She is glimpsed briefly by one of the girls, wearing what looks like a doll’s face. There are crawlspaces aplenty and a dumb-waiter that keeps banging. Outside, there’s a deep well and a scarecrow lurking in Samuel’s former workshop.  

Rollerskate dollies

Lights Out director David F Sandberg honed his skills with rollerskate dollies and no-budget shorts. His impeccable horror timing makes for terrific and effective dread. Jump scares are withheld and rationed with scientific precision. Nursery items are not overused. Director of photography Maxime Alexandre (Switchblade Romance, The Crazies) snakes through the spooky, elaborate sets menacingly, while composer Benjamin Wallfisch makes with the bass.

Unhappily, the film stutters once the monster is revealed in all his demonic CG dullness. The rules become impossible to decipher: so the demon has dominion over time and space but I can a shut a door on it?  

And say “hello” to the Conjuverse. The Conjuring 3 is happening, as are spin-off films for The Crooked Man and The Nun. Annabelle: Creation flags the latter with a shameless moment of sandboxing. An equally ill-advised denouement links the eponymous doll with historical horrors.   

Still, for the first two acts, while Annabelle: Creation concerns itself with little girls checking under beds and investigating things that go bump in the night, it’s equal to James Wan’s Conjuring films. We await Mr Sandberg’s Shazam – the seventh DC Extended Universe film – with interest.