The Hobbit, The Phantom Menace, Prometheus. Prequels have earned a bad rep in Hollywood throughout the years. Rather than expanding the lore, prequels have been cast as plain cash grabs that pale in comparison to its originals. So, what happens when you get a prequel of a prequel?
Annabelle: Creation is Hollywood’s most metafictionally absurd movie to date. It’s the fourth film in The Conjuring franchise, yet it takes us massive steps back to the very beginning. It’s a prequel to a prequel. How deep can we go?
Moreover, Creation has the not-so-light challenge of establishing further connections to the self-proclaimed The Conjuring cinematic universe. As a production, Annabelle: Creation tries to do so much in its almost 120 minutes of runtime.
As a movie, however, Annabelle: Creation is surprisingly very entertaining.
Taking us back to the roots of the creepy Annabelle doll from the original Conjuring movie, Creation introduces us to the distraught Mullins couple—a dollmaker and his wife mourning the loss of their daughter (named Annabelle) from a freak car accident 12 years prior. To revitalize their lonely home, the Mullins invite an orphanage to settle down in their house. As with most horror movies, everything goes to hell (literally) as Janice and Linda, a crippled girl and her best friend, unleash an unspeakable evil housed within the eponymous doll.
Creation revolves around this one phrase “as with most horror movies.” A lot of its strengths and problems hinge on how it relies on common horror movie tropes. The film knows what it is, but it won’t attempt to go beyond. Sometimes, it works; sometimes, it doesn’t.
Director David Sandberg knows when to put in tense scenes and jump scares. The film’s first and second acts rely (to the point of tedium) on such shockers. Yes, they’re pretty predictable but they can still jar audiences when they come. One notable scare happens during the daytime. Early on, the film establishes a day-night cycle: daytime is for character development while the night is for scares. The movie breaks this cycle just once by inserting a scare during the day. That once was enough to wrangle me from a false sense of security.
Narratively, Creation is the same old horror movie plot. A supernatural entity wants to terrorize humanity. A rational character tells our protagonists to not do a thing. They do the thing anyway. Supernatural entity is freed. Loud noises. Horrific images popping on the screen. People dying. Movie ends.
The plot is even further brutalized by lengthy exposition scenes that explain how a demon came to possess the Annabelle doll. Quite often, exposition can spoil horror. Creation is no different. Exposition killed its horror for me. Thankfully, a good side effect of its exposition is a wonderful development of its main characters. Janice and Linda’s friendship is the main focus of the film. Even if you know something’s going to go horribly wrong when they promise that they’ll never leave each other, their relationship is a pleasure to watch. It introduces some much-needed characterization in a drab genre.
Visually, Creation is horrific eye candy. Except for one poor CGI scene involving Annabelle’s ghost, Annabelle: Creation was shot well. The demonic presence is never shown directly, always shrouded in darkness. The Annabelle doll never explicitly moves, always just appearing when it needs to. Even in the daytime, the house is always claustrophobic, dark, and filled with secret rooms. Cinematic choices like these lend well to the film’s overall horror experience.
Sandberg’s uninterrupted one-takes look excellent as well. Sweeping scenes frame the house perfectly. Scares are also helped by wide, panning shots that seem to always search for ghostly presences regardless of whether you want to or not. You almost want to look away and wish the camera cuts elsewhere. Creation carries a lot of good cinematographic choices for a genre bloated with the same, tired jump scare imagery.
Personally, I prefer the psychological horror genre over the supernatural one. Thus, it comes as a surprise to say that Annabelle: Creation is a fun supernatural horror movie. It doesn’t revolutionize the entire subgenre but it accomplishes what it needs to accomplish. Like a fun thrill ride at the carnival, it’s a barrel of scares from beginning to end.