It's kind of awesome that The Conjuring has given birth to a larger horror cinematic universe. Back in 2013 (it's actually a little hard to believe that it has only been 4 years) I thought it was a great horror movie but never imagined that it would give birth to spin-offs and sequels and prequels and prequel sequels and spin-off sequels. Annabelle, the first spin-off released in 2014, was a decent horror movie with a couple of incredible sequences. The Conjuring 2 had it's moments but was overlong and couldn't compare to the first, though that didn't stop it from birthing two new spin-off movies that are currently in production.
In the meantime we have Annabelle: Creation, a prequel to the spin-off that shows how the incredibly creepy possessed doll came to be an incredibly creepy possessed doll. I can't believe I'm saying this about the new Annabelle movie, but this is easily the best movie in the franchise we've gotten since the first Conjuring and while I haven't seen that one since it's release, I feel pretty confident this one could even go toe to toe with it.
Years after suffering a personal tragedy, dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Sharon (Kerry O'Malley) welcome a nun and a group of girls from a just closed orphanage to stay on their farmhouse property that seems out of the budget for a dollmaker. Of course we the audience know this guy is responsible for the creation of the Annabelle doll, intended to be 1 out of 100 limited edition items but it ends up being the only one he is able to finish. The two youngest girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson, also one of the stars of last year's prequel that was way better than you would ever expect - Ouija: Origin of Evil) are quick to pick up on the strange happenings within the Mullins' farmhouse. It all starts small with doors and windows opening on their own that could easily be the result of a breeze, or strange noises that could simply be the house settling. These happenings become harder to write off once bendy demons start stomping around the house chasing children and making dolls look in different directions.
Director David F. Sandberg really impressed me with last year's Lights Out. It featured a more interesting story and better developed characters than I would have expected, and provided a short, funhouse ride burst of frights that was full of effective jump scares. It made the most out of its primary location and its central gimmick (a ghost that can't go in the light). Annabelle: Creation feels like the next logical step. There are some very effective jump scares here, but Creation is a more patient feature. Lights Out hit the ground running and rarely let up. Creation is more willing to let things build, often wringing unbearable suspense out of something as simple as letting a shot linger on a dark hallway. Sandberg also makes great use of the farmhouse where 95% of the movie takes place. The characters are constantly uncovering new areas of the house and yes, there is of course a creepy ass scarecrow.
The performances are terrific. Between this and Ouija, Lulu Wilson has impressed me enough that my minutes ago discovery that she is starring in a 24 year later sequel to Cop and a Half starring Lou Diamond Phillips almost makes me want to watch that movie. Her and Bateman are great together, portraying a very sweet friendship between Janice and Linda that makes the events unfolding all the more tragic.
Horror, like comedy, is of course very subjective so remember that when I tell you that I thought this movie was terrifying. There are plenty of "OH FUCK LOUD NOISE" jump scares, but they are the result of something threatening/scary happening. I don't recall a single fake-out scare where it turns out to be a friend grabbing the character on the shoulder or a cat or any shit like that. It's certainly not all loud boo scares. Many of the most effective moments are surrounded by silence. Movement in the background, the stillness of the farmhouse or the eerie quiet in the hidden rooms around the house. The centre piece of the movie is a sequence where Linda is being stalked in her room, with the scene starting out with unsettling quiet and building into a thunderous nightmare of stomping footsteps and jostling bed sheets. Seriously this whole review could be a bullet list of creepy moments as this movie has them in spades, with a latter half that hardly lets up until the credits roll.
I'm a bit stunned at how good Annabelle: Creation really is. Seriously, two of the better mainstream horror movies I've seen recently are prequels to movies that were at best fine (Annabelle) and at worst, super super dumb (Ouija). The plot is simple, perhaps to a fault, but the characters are likable and the farmhouse location is used to its full potential. You also get a good a balance of screechy violin jump scares, and extended sequences of dread. This is an easy recommendation for anyone who isn't deathly afraid of dolls and/or scarecrows. And maybe even for those who are. Scarecrows are just straw dummies man, Jesus. Suck it up. Enjoy all those crows wuss.