‘Annabelle: Creation’ is an exercise in screen-yelling horror

I have a friend who I continually bring to horror movies, even though he is one of those “DON’T GO IN THERE!”- type theater yellers. I was happy to see that he wasn’t the only one in the theater yelling at the screen during our latest horror venture, Annabelle: Creation.

Who’d have thought that 2013’s horror hit, The Conjuring, could bring so many side storylines and thrills. The story of Annabelle was first featured as a prologue to the first Conjuring‘s tale of spirits, conduits, and horror. Director James Wan found it to be the perfect note to draw audiences in to the skeptic-laden story of the Warren family.

But somebody found that 5-minute tidbit to be worthy enough of a spinoff, even though The Conjuring franchise has nothing to do with it save for the fact that it is arguably the Warren’s most famous case and that it was featured in the first movie.

That spinoff ended up being (to quote a colleague of mine) a hot pile of garbage, the likes of which I chose not to view. But it was a box-office success, allowing producers and film corporate offices to take note of numbers and deem a sequel be greenlit. Luckily, this time they found the write combination of director, David F. Sandberg, and producer, James Wan. Sandberg is fresh off of last year’s acclaimed horror entry, Lights Out, and Wan is familiar with franchise, having directed the first two Conjuring films.

Both directors have an affinity for old-school thrills, where things build before they pop out of the woodwork. Annabelle: Creation certainly feels like a labor of love the way the first Conjuring did, with attention to period set pieces and style. I recall how Jordan Peele, the comedian responsible for the surprise horror hit, Get Out, stated that horror all comes down to timing. But I think Wan and Sandberg also both understand that if you have the basis for a good film (interesting characters, a solid plot), thrills really are secondary.

If you recall, the Annabelle story in the first Conjuring occurred in 1968. Annabelle: Creation is set about a little over a decade before the events. Puppet-maker, Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), and his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), live a wholesome life with their daughter, Annabelle. One day, Annabelle is tragically killed. 12 years later, Mr. Mullins invites a group of orphan girls and their nun caretaker (Stephanie Sigman) to come inhabit the grounds that Annabelle and the puppets used to inhabit.

From here, much of the film is old school horror, in a way that is completely cliched and predictable, but in the most enjoyable ways possible. The rest of the film is the “Don’t go in that room!” thrills that horror films used to thrive off of, but then had a slow dip in quality, and have now had a massive resurgence.

If you think that one of the girls should not go in a room, they do. The little girl should not check what is in the well? She does. Don’t go in the barn? They are the only one in the entire group who passed through the door into the barn so the door slams shut and locks her in. These are cheap setups that Sandberg plays with beautifully and thrillingly.

Sandberg is not so much concerned with the types of thrills, but the way they are set up. He is a horror talent that should be watched in the coming years, a worthy successor to an already budding career in James Wan.

Rating:   (out of 4)

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