You likely know by this point that I consider the Conjuring films to be two of the three greatest horror films ever made, along with The Ring (my thoughts on those three films can be found here, here, and here). The original Annabelle movie doesn’t have a great reputation, but it wasn’t all that bad. Most people are only capable of throwing films into two categories: perfect and horrible. It was neither of those, delivering pretty standard fare for a horror film and failing to impress or be memorable in any significant way, even if it wasn’t all that offensive, either. Despite people swearing up and down that they hated the film, it still somehow managed to earn almost $257 million at the worldwide box office on a paltry $6.5 million budget. So, if you were the beneficiary of that success, you’d make another one, too.
The producers over at Warner Brothers decided to go another route, however, and deliver a prequel to that first film, just as Universal recently did with its Ouija franchise. That prequel, Ouija: Origins of Evil, was a fantastic horror film that ultimately earned less money than its far inferior predecessor, a victim of an unforgiving audience. On at least one of those counts, Annabelle: Creation is following the same path, whereas it’s still too early to know for sure about the other.
When a nun and the orphans in her care are expelled by the closing of their orphanage, they find a home with a couple who are struggling to cope with the death of their young daughter from over a decade past. The father of that young girl is also a dollmaker who created – you guessed it – Annabelle. Whereas the Conjuring films are adapted from the real-life case files of renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (I feel like I’ve typed that description so often in my life that I’m not entirely sure it’s my own wording, anymore. I’m keeping it the way it is, though.), this particular film is a purely fictionalized account of the genesis of the famed Annabelle doll. In reality, Annabelle was actually a Raggedy Ann doll, not the product of an independent dollmaker.
So, knowing that this film isn’t purportedly based on factual occurrences may take a little bit of the luster off, but it shouldn’t really matter all that much. It’s a solid story that surprises in all the right places. As in the Conjuring films, the focus is on the characterization and narrative, with the scares being augmented by our investment in the cast. One would have to be of rather questionable character in order to root for the demise of a sweet young orphaned girl who has been hobbled by polio. So, yeah, maybe the script stacks the deck and perhaps even panders a bit in order to elicit the desired sympathy. But since I’m sure most of you have complained at one point or another about the tendency of horror films to feature unlikable characters who you want to see dead, this should be a refreshing change (unless you’re already a fan of the Conjuring franchise – as you should be – in which case, this is just one of many areas in which the series almost always excels).
As the film builds, the menace creeps in, a bit at a time. It all crescendos in a climax bursting with imaginative and terrifying visuals buried within excellently-timed examples of both jump scares and suspense horror. The film goes out of its way to offer up a haunting that manifests in ways unlike anything that has been done in film before (mostly, at least).
The marketing for the film has featured a quote (from a critic whose name I didn’t catch, so my apologies) that states that Annabelle: Creation is “one of the best films in the Conjuring universe”. That may be a slight paraphrase, but that was the idea. Using basic logic, that would make Annabelle: Creation the second-best film when comparing it to the two Conjuring films and the original Annabelle. If it was the best, that would have been stated outright. If it was in the bottom two, that would not make it one of the best”. So, since there are exactly four films in the series, that only leaves one spot according to that particular critic.
I agree that it’s significantly better that the original Annabelle, if for no other reason than I suspect it made more of an impression on me and I’ll remember more specifics of the film after time has passed. But Creation is nowhere near the quality of the two Conjuring films. Those films have infinitely more heart and weight, largely due to the presence of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who have a combustible chemistry and, when paired, create an unbeatable and intangible It Factor that can’t be replicated on demand. Plus, those films do have the aforementioned added attraction of being based on true stories.
But that doesn’t mean that Annabelle: Creation isn’t good or worth seeing for horror buffs. I just suggest that one not go in expecting it to measure up to either Conjuring film, since those movies are near-perfect classics and those would be unfair expectations. Still, Annabelle: Creation is an above-average supernatural thriller with some fun and disturbing visuals and many genuinely unnerving moments. It’s not one of the best horror films ever, but it’s a worthwhile entry and a fun horror movie to hold us over until It drops in just a few weeks.
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