Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend the world premiere screening of Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to the spinoff of the The Conjuring universe, which also references the upcoming The Nun. Make sense?
The premiere was held at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel (where I also got to see a 40th anniversary screening of Carrie), a gorgeous old movie palace with an elaborate lobby (complete with bar), vintage restrooms, and seats from an era when Americans were a little less wide. I love any opportunity to see a film outside of the everyday multiplex, and this venue was a treat unto itself!
The movie itself was pretty good, and certainly a step above the first and, frankly, forgettable Annabelle. Many years ago, a dollmaker Samuel Mullins and his wife Esther lost their daughter Annabelle in a horrible accident. Flash-forward a few years, and Sister Charlotte accompanies a group of orphan girls to move into the Mullins’ farmhouse. It doesn’t take long for doors to slam on their own or for the titular Annabelle (a doll so cartoonishly scary, she would never ever pass for children’s toy) to pop up in unexpected places. Things escalate quickly, as one of the girls becomes possessed, and it is discovered the Mullins are hiding a terrible secret.
Story seems to be the least concerning element in most modern horror films, as Annabelle: Creation delivers non-stop jump moments ranging from genuinely chilling to laughably preposterous. What makes this one stand out is director David F. Sandberg, who clearly brings his Lights Out sensibilities with more creative and interesting scare elements. The lighting is used very powerfully to heighten and sensationalize the mood, and even works in antitraditional ways. In one scene, a girl is violently pulled through the front yard in broad daylight. The guest next to me yelled, “Aw shit! It’s in daylight now?”
The audience, I fully concede, was one of the best parts of this screening. I guarantee I would not have had as much fun with this movie watching it at home, alone. Everyone screamed and laughed at just the right moments, and shouted at the screen after girl after girl cluelessly wandered into the haunted bedroom.
As silly as the script was, I was very impressed by the girls’ acting, particularly the two leads Janice (Talitha Bateman, balancing good Janice and possessed-by-demons Janice) and Linda (Lulu Wilson, who was terrorized just months ago in Ouija: Origin of Evil). These two young talents were put through numerous physically demanding scenes, spewing intense emotions, and all the while portraying dimensional, believable (given the circumstances) characters.
Annabelle: Creation is not the challenging moral tale of It Comes by Night, and does not pack the unsettling scares of The Witch. But as more “traditional” horror for a mainstream audience goes, it’s a quality effort heightened by strong acting.