Annabelle: Creation is sure to be the biggest fright flick of the summer and it well deserves the crown.
Under the watchful eye of producer James Wan, the expanding cinematic universe of The Conjuring (2013) has taken an elegantly old school approach to horror, particularly with the main franchise entries. These movies use timeless, almost stereotypical villains – witches, nuns, poltergeists and yes, dolls – to tell stories that provide both a sense of nostalgia and an adrenaline junkie’s love of jump scares. Directed by David F. Sandberg,Annabelle: Creation, the latest entry in the series, continues the almost gothic approach to fear.
Annabelle the doll appeared to creepy effect in both Conjuring films but her first standalone, 2014’s Annabelle fell flat, its weak script relying on predictable scares and near-campy action to keep its thin plot rolling forward. While both Annabelle films were written by Gary Dauberman, Wan and company have wisely switched directors, and as a result Creation is more successful. Sandberg, who played with lights, shadows and sounds so well in last year’s Lights Out, does the same here, making every frame a mystery for the viewer’s eye to puzzle through. The director enriches technical flourishes like sweeping camerawork (a hallmark of the series) by pushing his actors to speak quietly and move unassumingly, which contributes to the film’s gothic ambitions while reining in the potential for camp.
As usual, the series continues to put female characters front and center. Despite Anthony LaPaglia’s sensitive turn in the central role as doll maker Samuel Mullins, the film is filled with strong female roles, from Samuel’s tragic wife Esther (the chronically underappreciated Miranda Otto) to a nun (Stephanie Sigman of Spectre) and gaggle of orphans that comes to stay with the doll maker and his wife.
Then, of course, there is Annabelle herself. Her frilly design is antithetical to the malevolence within her, and it is once again refreshing to see such a feminine baddie at the center of a horror film. Her origins are fleshed out here but not completely defined, leaving room for future appearances in the Conjuring universe, at least one of which is enticingly teased in a post-credits sequence.
The technical credits are all top notch, particularly Benjamin Wallfisch’s stylish score and the painterly cinematography of horror veteran Maxime Alexandre. What holds Annabelle: Creation back from joining Wan’s Conjuring and Insidious films as among the best of recent horror entries is its plot and accompanying dialogue. Though done well, everything here has been done before and a bit better. In fact, it feels as if screenwriter Dauberman was so determined to tie the film in with the rest of the series that he forgets to give the story anything that would distinguish it from those films.
Outside of the disappointing script, it something of a cinematic miracle that this prequel to a spinoff is such a classy, spooky affair. With Wonder Woman lassoing in dollars at the box office and Girls Trip taking the crown as the highest grossing comedy of the year, it is great to see Hollywood’s summer of the woman continue. Annabelle: Creation is sure to be the biggest fright flick of the summer and it well deserves the crown.