The Popcorn Periodical
Annabelle: Queen of the Killer Dolls
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…
You recognize the lyrics. That sweet lullaby has been cooed at children across the globe for generations. But just like the souls of the innocent, Annabelle is here to take your sunshine away.
Annabelle: Creation is now terrorizing a showtime near you! The prequel to 2014’s box office smash, Annabelle, about a demonic doll, is a spin-off franchise from 2013’s highly successful supernatural thriller, The Conjuring (based on true events). With the biggest opening weekend for a non-sequel horror movie ever, The Conjuring spawned a sequel of it’s own last year with The Conjuring 2. A third film, The Conjuring 3, was announced in late July, exactly one week before Annabelle: Creation’s North American premiere. No word on a release date as of yet.
The horror genre has been on a bit of a hiatus this year – genre fans anticipate the release of the big screen debut of Stephen King’s best-seller, It, on September 8th, but besides the release of Creation, we haven’t seen a successful major motion horror film since February’s racially-charged psycho-thriller, Get Out.
New and terrifying concepts are less realized than Jordan Peele’s directorial debut in February’s Get Out, but as long as people are willing to buy movie tickets to see a familiar monster in dolls clothing, production companies will facilitate exactly that: Little Miss Annabelle’s prequel.
The tricky part to this doll-icious scary movie is how well Annabelle stays true to her devilish character. How is this film going to tie into the first? It matters to fans of The Conjuring Universe. They want the same scares from the same doll with an entirely novel execution. And you can count on quite a few executions, come to think of it. Annabelle goes off!
That’s what horror sequels set out to do in the first place, isn’t it? If so, Annabelle: Creation serves a pretty solid progression.
First thing’s first, Annabelle is not the toy she was made to be. She isn’t here to play house, either. This movie is a creaky ride from beginning to end and no supernatural horror cliché is left behind.
The film begins in the late 1940’s with dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia, Without A Trace) surrounded by doll limbs in his basement workshop. He carefully selects and fastens all of the doll parts together, those familiar creepy eyes and red pigtails included, then sets her in her freshly labelled wood box.
This doll is the first of a limited-edition run, but all plans to make more fall through once Samuel’s only daughter, Annabelle/Bee Mullins (Samara Lee), is tragically killed. The scene of her death literally hits you in the gut and Samara plays the ghoulish “ghost” of Bee as eerily as expected. “Can you help me?” Ahhhh! No, girl!
Over the next 12 years, at a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere (of course), we learn that Samuel and his wife Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) try to atone their guilt from their daughter’s death. They end up giving in to a demon’s temptations when it takes the form of their daughter Bee. It eventually lures the Mullins into thinking it’s a good idea to let an entity live inside the one-of-a-kind doll.
The grieving parents’ vulnerability is an easy target, and sure enough, the persuasive demon is given the permission it seeks to live within the now infamous killer doll. An obvious mistake, and Esther Mullins realizes this first when the demon attacks her face; leaving her depressed, scared, and bed-ridden, accessorized with a Phantom Of The Opera-esque doll mask to cover her gouged eye socket.
This story is all over the place when it comes to the timeline however, and we are given answers sporadically throughout the 1h 49m running time. This makes it nearly impossible to tie the two Annabelle films together if you haven’t seen the first instalment.
Just ‘s like Creation‘s predecessor, the trailer gives away too many of the scares. Nearly every single bone-chilling moment is accompanied by a “made you look” jump-scare. Sometimes, there’s nothing to worry about – you let your heart race for no reason – but most of the loud music and darkened hallways lead to something much more sinister; Annabelle is always up to no good.
The Mullins proceed to lock the possessed doll away in their deceased daughter’s closet. The walls lined with bible verses, they close the door, never to see or hear from it again. That is until a group of orphaned girls and a nun become their house guests, and the demon begins to let it’s presence known again.
Young Janice, (Talitha Bateman, The 5th Wave, Geostorm) gives a solid performance as one of the orphan girls suffering from polio. Talitha is a wonderful young actress and she’ll likely have a promising acting career ahead of her. Despite the “why would you do that” aspect of nearly every one of her actions, Talitha really makes the audience feel like she’s scared to death, and later on, possessed to no end.
The other girls in this film, not so much. A lot of the acting falls flat and the pop-up scares are much more frightening than the actual movie. The anticipation and musical build up to random bursts of terror are read as cheap shots, but they get the job done. Did I just spill my popcorn?!
Janice is the first of demon’s prey and she eventually acts as a host too. Literally, all hell breaks loose, and we’re delivered a menacing tale of horror movie frights 101: a scarecrow, a dumbwaiter, a dollhouse, a rickety chair lift, priests and crosses, exorcisms, a creepy wishing well, and enough Linda Blair nightgowns to fill a children’s clothing store. All of these are thrown into his montage of horror like a loot bag. None are overtly original which leaves the walking bed sheet or demon-fishing bunk bed scenes among the movie’s most innovative. Jarring and predictable, all at once.
Written by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle, It, The Nun), it’s surprising how brave he made these young girls. Nobody, especially a child, is going to break into a strange bedroom haunted by a frightening doll three times.
Director and creator of The Conjuring Universe, James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Furious 7, Insidious, Aquaman), is not attached to any of the Annabelle prequels and his absence is felt. Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), tries his hand at directing this time around and Annabelle’s first director, John R. Leonetti (The Butterfly Effect 2), passed on the opportunity to direct an upcoming horror TV series, Nowheresville.
Topping the opening weekend box-office with $35 million, Creation has made it’s mark on summer blockbuster lists, and while Annabelle’s only true competition in the valley of the red-headed killer dolls is good ol’ Chucky of Child’s Play, Annabelle is possessed by a demon, not a spirit. In a fight she’d slay, but as an overall horror icon, Chucky remains the king. They’d make a killer couple.
Be sure to check out Don Mancini’s latest, Cult of Chucky, released on DVD and Digital Blu-Ray on October 20. The return of Jennifer Tilly should be a hoot, too! “Friends ‘til the end, remember?”
Better than the first but not better than the rest, Annabelle: Creation is a fun, amped-up haunting good time. You will get what you came for, but I think its safe to say fans will be expecting a lot more for the future of The Conjuring Universe. Both The Nun and The Crooked Man are in the works, and with Creation solidifying another huge success on opening weekend, we probably haven’t seen the last of Annabelle, either.
“You don’t know the real story,” is the movie’s tagline, and its true. We don’t. Not until the very end, anyway. One thing is certain, by the time you piece this puzzle together, you will never look at another Raggedy Ann doll the same way again!
About the Author
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.