If I recall correctly, I was about six years old when my mother was given a small, antique porcelain doll by our neighbors after they had gone through a bunch of stuff to declutter their storage space. What made this doll so special was that it seemingly kick-started my parents’ collection of vintage toys and antique knick-knacks. Once they began collecting, my parents would routinely go to flea markets and thrift stores with me in tow to hunt for new treasures, which would not only teach me how to haggle, but also how to estimate the value and age of old toys. Eventually, my parents ended up having one of the largest private collections of vintage and antique toys in Denmark, and my mother actually ended up losing track of exactly how many dolls she had. All I knew was that she probably had over a thousand dolls, and that they really freaked out my friends. Thus, whenever I had friends over for movie nights in my teens, they would at some point start daring each other to see who could stay locked up in the doll room the longest before wanting out. Having grown up around the dolls, I never found them creepy, and I thought my friends were being silly, just as I never thought horror movies centering around dolls were particularly scary. While films like the first Child’s Play definitely deserves its status as a horror classic and the sequels that followed had varying degrees of entertainment value, personally, I never found the idea of an evil, sentient doll all that scary, and 2014’s Annabelle certainly did not manage to impress me either.
The two The Conjuring films have shown that the horror genre is still alive and well, as they have largely managed to both scare the average moviegoer as well as delight many long-suffering horror fans due to the high production value of the films, which is showcased by the good acting, the atmospheric set design and cinematography, and of course the highly effective editing and sound design. However, when the first of the inevitable spin-off films hit the big screen with the release of Annabelle in 2014, it got a less than stellar reception. The film about the demonic doll not only failed to impress critics, it also left many fans of The Conjuring disappointed, as Annabelle did not live up to the solid standard set by the first film about the supernatural misadventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren. It is therefore understandable that people would feel apprehensive about the prequel Annabelle: Creation, as the new film not only concerns the possessed plaything, but also focuses on the evil entity from the point of view of two young girls in particular.
As most horror fans can confirm, child actors in horror films can either be unbearably cringe-worthy or increase the eeriness of a film substantially, and the performances of Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson thankfully fall into the latter category. By putting these two girls – who have no idea who the eponymous Annabelle is or how the doll fits into it all – at the forefront of the film, their perspective is on the same page as that of the audience, since the girls know just as little as we do. While Bateman and Wilson are the standouts, the rest of the cast also does well to serve as contrasts to the main girls and their experiences; Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia work well as the mysterious Mullins couple, Stephanie Sigman steers clear of the worst cliches in her portrayal of the caretaker nun, and the varied ages of the orphan girls she looks after further help to give the audience a somewhat varied group of characters to invest in. Additionally, having the film play out on a remote farm in the 1950’s makes for a naturally eerie setting, just as the sense of being isolated from the outside world and thereby being unable to easily get help also looms in the subconsciousness of the characters – and by proxy the viewer – throughout the film.
However, the film is pretty straightforward in terms of its structure and style, but the overall production value manages to make the film an efficient slice of horror cinema. The obligatory exposition scene is also present, of course, but it is placed so late in the film and at a time where the audience will have been pulled far enough into the story that wanting an explanation and a conclusion to the story feels equally natural and necessary after the many well-executed moments of tension throughout the film. As such, the only significant drawback of the film comes at the very end, where the frustrating choice to link Annabelle: Creation up to the events of the first Annabelle somewhat detracts from an otherwise solid effort from David F. Sandberg.
The story of the doll’s creation and what made it into a conduit for a demonic presence is not only remarkably better than the first Annabelle film, it also manages to showcase a style and atmosphere that both emphasizes its stylistic and tonal connection with The Conjuring, all the while avoiding becoming too derivative of its source material. Instead, Annabelle: Creation feels like a natural companion piece to the other films in this horror franchise, and while it hardly reinvents the horror genre, the film ultimately shows that good craftsmanship goes a long way in creating an effective horror film. As a result, Annabelle: Creation not only delivers the tension and scares it should, it also made me begin to understand why my mother’s doll collection freaked out my childhood friends, just as it also left me rather relieved that she stopped collecting old dolls altogether.
Verdict: 8 out of 10.