Annabelle: Creation movie review – Genuinely creepy; the best film in the Conjuring universe
Director – David F Sandberg
Cast – Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto
Rating – 3/5
A wise man once said – it could’ve been Steven Spielberg, David Mamet, or Walter Murch (or, quite possibly, all three) – that the true testament to a film’s greatness is if you watch it without sound (or subtitles), and still understand the basic nuances of the plot.
And as in most horror movies, sound is a vital – but also carelessly abused – part of Annabelle: Creation, the sequel/prequel to the sequel/prequel of the first Conjuring movie. But it is, however, a fine film with which to conduct this experiment, because it relies more on atmosphere and symbolism, unlike most mainstream scary movies, and isn’t nearly as chatty as them.
For one, it’s a period picture – set in the ‘40s and ‘50s to be exact – reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro’s great gothic horror, El Espinazo del Diablo – an auspicious beginning, those who’ve seen it would agree. And like that movie, it sends a group of orphans – this time, only girls – off to live in a home where terrible things have happened.
Upstairs, kept under lock and key, there lies a doll, Annabelle. After a series of unfortunate events, the children’s peskiness awakens the dormant demon inside her, and sends her on a murderous rampage.
Annabelle: Creation borrows heavily from modern Spanish horror movies – movies like El Orfanato, Los ojos de Julia – which is fortunate, because modern American horror movies are (usually) the pits.
But to appreciate good horror, we must first understand a key difference. The sight of a pair of dolls’ hands unexpectedly appearing out of the darkness, and performing a quick clap, is an efficient scare – but it only lasts for a moment. It’s an empty visual, designed to startle you and do little else. You’ll probably chuckle sheepishly when it’s over, but that’s only out of relief. No one wants to admit that they’re easily manipulated while watching horror movies, but here’s the truth: Most people are.
Now, consider another situation. Instead of simply jumping at an unexpected scare, how about the movie projects an image (or idea) into your mind, but never shows it? A terrific example of this is Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. It’s perhaps the most violent movie ever made without even a second of violence shown on screen. It works purely on the power of suggestion. So think to yourself: Would the sight of a pair of clapping dolls’ hands be more terrifying if the movie offered a few more carefully chosen details?
What if we’d been told, very ominously at the beginning, that under no circumstances should you approach the room where the doll is kept locked? It’s been hidden away for a reason. As the legend goes, a demon has made the doll its physical form, and it should never be released from its prison. But, despite the warnings, if you somehow do end up in the room, close your ears, because once you hear the claps, you’re done for. It’s the demon’s way of signalling to you that it has picked you as its next target, and once it has made up its mind, there’s no running away.
Better, isn’t it? It’s an over-simplified solution, but instead of relying on an easy means to an end, here, the movie sets up its rules, builds the dread, and delivers the payoff. Differences like this are what put me in the minority as far as these Conjuring movies go.
But it would appear that director David F Sandberg, at just two feature films old, prefers the second route too. He is – and this might be blasphemous opinion – a more assured horror filmmaker than Conjuring originator James Wan, who has admittedly made some truly terrific modern horror movies.
While Annabelle: Creation is by no means a perfect film, and nor is Sandberg the best director currently working in the genre – he doesn’t, for instance, have the sixth sense of a M Night Shyamalan or Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe, represent) – he has made a film that’s a vast improvement over its predecessor, and I would go so far to say, even the two Conjuring movies.
For one, it’s quite confident about taking a deep dive into the series’ mythology – a mythology that a Marvel-esque post-credits scene suggests will be further explored in another spinoff, The Nun – which, by the looks of it, will be another period film, this time set in a Romanian convent. And if it turns out to be even slightly as chilling as Cristian Mungiu’s După Dealuri (big recommendation, by the way), then we’re all good.
You could perhaps chalk it down to low expectations, or a general disinterest in the Conjuring universe, but for me, Annabelle: Creation is a genuinely well-made movie, and should work like gangbusters at late night screenings.
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