The Conjuring

Review: ‘Annabelle: Creation’ is one of the scariest films of the year

Director: David F. Sandberg 

Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, and Alicia Vela-Bailey 

Synopsis: Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker's possessed creation, Annabelle (IMDb). 

Rated: R

Year: 2017

The flick of a switch was all it took for last year’s Lights Out to transition from fractured family drama to bone-chilling creature feature. This simple yet clever hook solidified David F. Sandberg as an original voice within a genre otherwise cursed by convention.

If the original Annabelle was anything, it was conventional. How many similarly lame haunted house flicks feature the happy family that falls victim to some demonic presence that they unknowingly let into their home? I cringe imagining the number.

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Now Sandberg inherits Annabelle’s unholy mantle and with it is tasked with crafting an unnecessary prequel to a spin-off nobody wanted. And though it’s just his second film, Sandberg whittles Annabelle: Creation with expert detail despite the lingering presence of a familiar formula.

The minute Sister Charloette (Stephanie Sigman) and the small band of orphan girls she looks after step into the massive, decrepit farmhouse that will become their new home, you know exactly how things are going to play out. It will be quiet at first with a bump in the night here and there until the tension slowly ratchets past ten to a climactic third act throwdown with whatever supernatural entity is antagonizing our poor protagonists.

And for the most part, Annabelle: Creation delivers on those story tropes. However, the focus here is on the scares and Sandberg cleverly utilizes tools of the trade to construct a relentless house of horrors. Lighting and composition perfectly capture the eerie stylization of The Conjuring universe and the manipulation of sound consistently forces your imagination to do the heavy lifting when most of what you’re seeing is pitch black.

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Once Sandberg starts showing you glimpses of what’s actually dwelling in the darkness, it lives up to any anything you might have concocted in your head. Special and practical effects often come together, often seamlessly, to create terrifying images that will permanently burn into your mind.

Sandberg also makes inventive use of the environment. Sure, we get a small sense of the layout of the house at the beginning while the Mullins’s playfully terrorize their young daughter Annabelle, but we don’t get to truly explore the old mansion until years later when the orphans arrive. The camera snakes in and out of corridors, establishing the larger physical space as well as specific details that all come into play once everything goes topsy-turvy.

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But technical prowess alone doesn’t get an audience emotionally invested. They have to care about the characters in order to care about what’s happening to them. Thankfully, the heart of ‘Creation’ belongs to Lulu Wilson (Oujia: Origin of Evil) and Talitha Bateman. Respectively, they play Linda and Janice, two orphans who are so close that they are practically sisters. In fact, they’ve made a pact to be adopted as a pair. Their deep love for each other is heartwarming and provides an emotional anchor the film.

The love doesn’t stop there. While the sisterly bond between the young orphans might have been enough to pull an audience in on its own merits, Sister Charlotte gets in on the love too. She plays the role of the orphans’ mother/big sister and it’s easy to tell she cares for them in that way. Stephanie Sigman does a nice job portraying both the loving and strict sides of Sister Charlotte without ever leaning too far into one or the other. It’s easy to root for these girls once the evil enters their lives.

Grade: A-

What did you all think of Annabelle: Creation? Was it better than the original? And are you now open to seeing more horror movie prequels? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re interested, check out our list of the best horror movie prequels of recent memory.

The Best Recent Horror Movie Prequels

Speaking in general terms, prequels get a bad rap and that seems to go double for horror prequels. This weekend sees the release of Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to Annabelle, which itself is a prequel to The Conjuring. If social media is any indication, it seems many have prematurely dismissed the forthcoming origin despite its official release still two days out.

It’s tough, though, to blame potential moviegoers for a lack of enthusiasm on their part regarding a second Annabelle movie. Sure the original scared up huge box office success, but the film was critically panned and nobody since has been clamoring for another go-around with the world’s creepiest doll.

Thankfully, recent history is on our side. No longer does a horror movie prequel automatically mean a horrible film. In fact, some have gone on to be better films than the original. Here are five recent examples of great prequels to horror films.

5. Insidious: Chapter 3

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Horror Master James Wan is a household name. After establishing two mega-popular tent poles (Saw and The Conjuring) and refueling another (Furious 7), he should be. But not every swing is a hit, even for great filmmakers. Insidious: Chapter 2 is a critical stain on Wan’s otherwise beloved resume. It left such a sour taste in audiences’ mouths that the third chapter shares so few ties with the first two installments, with of course the exception of Lin Shaye, who is an absolute delight as the series’ psychic. By stepping away from recognizable names and faces of Insidious and focusing on a new family while keeping a tight leash on tension, this prequel has breathed new life into these movies. Bring on Chapter Four!

4. Final Destination 5

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Where is a franchise to go following a fourth film called The Final Destination? Back to the beginning, of course! As it turns out, not such a bad call for the Final Destination franchise. While Final Destination 5 doesn’t do anything to win over new audiences, hardcore horror heads will no doubt revel in the prequel’s tongue-in-cheek sense of mischief and its effectively silly application of 3D technology. What’s more, ‘FD5′ features some of the series’ most ludicrous and memorable deaths (see: acupuncture Buddha and gymnastics splat-tastics).

3. Prometheus

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Prometheus is undoubtedly one of the most polarizing films to come out of the last decade. Many moviegoers praised Director Ridley Scott for imaginatively exploring new possibilities within the Alien universe and an equal number of people criticize the filmmaker for unnecessarily squatting over his cherished property (hence Ridley “Squat”). By its inclusion on this list, I’m sure you’ve already surmised that I tend to hang my hat on the former. That wasn’t always the case, though. Prior to Alien: Covenant, I thought Prometheus was a pretentious cash grab that promised answers but ultimately left me with more questions. After seeing where Ridley Scott plans to take the series, I’ve since changed my tune and see this film as the first act of a larger story featuring Michael Fassbender’s David, who is slowly becoming one of modern cinema’s greatest villains.

2. Paranormal Activity 3

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The original Paranormal Activity reinvigorated the found footage horror fad that lasted the better part of a decade. Paranormal Activity 2 was just more of the same. Instead of giving the same ol’ situation one more try, the third installment straight up jumps back to the eighties to explore the haunting of its lead heroines as young material girls living in a material world. The lack of contemporary tech forced Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost to roll with it and craft once in a lifetime scares. The result was a truly terrifying thriller.

1. Ouija: Origin of Evil

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Prequels are the life support systems of the horror genre. They’re a studio’s attempt to keep a lucrative franchise alive. Typically, that involves upping the ante on whatever the gruesome gimmick of that particular series is at the expense of coherent, compelling storytelling. Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) managed to achieve both with his prequel to the dumpster fire that is Ouija. Through the course of a deliberately paced slow burn, Flanagan simultaneously builds his characters and his scares. Consequently, ‘Origin of Evil’ is as tender as it is frightening and a decided improvement over the first film.

There you have it. Good horror movie prequels do exist and we’ve been fortunate to get as many as we’ve had the past few years. Speaking for Annabell: Creation, David F. Sandberg showed us he knows original horror when he put out last year’s Lights Out. Plus he recently landed the Shazam! gig, so James Wan isn’t the only visionary who thinks Sandberg’s capable of creatively spinning existing material.

Let us know what you all thought about our list in the comments section below and be sure to include your list of best horror movie prequels.

‘The Conjuring 2’ gets second spinoff in ‘The Crooked Man’

Just like the demons of its namesake, The Conjuring cinematic universe grows stronger the more fear it spreads. It just keeps growing and growing, this time adding a film that fans have actually been clamoring for.

THR reports that, along with The Nun, The Conjuring 2 will also be spinning off into The Crooked Man. Mike Van Waes (whose only other IMDb credit includes an upcoming Wizard of Oz horror project) will pen the script for a story by James Wan, though no release date has officially been announced.

The Crooked Man character has roots in an English nursery rhyme:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.

He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.

He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.

And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

The first spinoff of the series came out in 2014 and went to the possessed doll Annabelle with a film of the same name. A prequel to Annabelle (aptly titled Annabelle: Creation) is currently in the works and scheduled to hit theaters August 11th this year. It is directed by David F. Sandberg, who wrote and directed the surprise horror hit Lights Out last year.

The next entry in The Conjuring universe, The Nun, is slated to drop Friday, July 13th of 2018. The film stars Demian Bichir as a priest who investigates the mysterious death of a nun.

As of now, the films of The Conjuring universe have scared up a worldwide total nearing $900 million.

What do you guys think of this news? Are you excited for The Crooked Man? Do you enjoy these spinoffs? Let us know in the comments below!

Annabelle: Creation Trailer #1 Reaction

After a disappointing debut, Mrs. Future Ex Chucky returns with an origin story in Annabelle: Creation! With help from the Lights Out director, could this be the one to get us excited for more Annabelle? Check out our reaction at the link below!

Annabelle: Creation Trailer Reaction

Hit us up in the comments section, guys, and let us know what you thought about the first Annabelle spin-off and whether or not we need a second!