Monday, September 4, 2017

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Director: David F. Sandberg
Notable Cast: Talitha Bateman, Stephanie Sigman, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee, Tayler Buck, Lou Lou Safran

After the original Annabelle did substantial box office numbers a couple of years ago, it didn’t require some other worldly demonic signs to see that it was going to get a continuation. Not to mention it was a spinoff of the already super popular Conjuring franchise. So, like it or not, the spin off was getting a franchise. The result was Annabelle: Creation. While the first entry was something of a forgettable and mediocre effort at trying to recreate the Conjuring elements without being a knock off instead of a spin off, there is an ace in the sleeve for this prequel (to a prequel, might I add.) An ace named David F. Sandberg. Granted, this prequel certainly has its flaws in the script, but Annabelle: Creation is remarkably fun and is lifted above the mediocre aspects by a very talented young director. It’s not necessarily the runaway critical and fan friendly hit that the main Conjuring films are, but it’s easily better than its predecessor and retains faith in the strength of this Conjuring-verse.

To start with the lesser qualities of Annabelle: Creation, one must only think twice about most of the script. Like its predecessor, this film is built on some predictable and faulty foundations. There are some fun elements of its narrative to enjoy, particularly the idea of small religious girl group orphanage and the dynamics that presents with a demonic doll to frighten them, but the manner that the film plays things out leaves quite a bit of be desired. The film, in an attempt to still appeal to the mainstream horror audience or more casual viewers, tends to explain far too much to try and justify some of its scares and plot elements and not truly use its vague elements to maximum benefit. It meanders through most of its progressions too injecting tons of scary sequences seemingly for the sake of having scary sequences. Do we really need the entire scene with the scarecrow in the third act to terrify some of the secondary girls from the orphanage? Not really. And that’s a big problem in Annabelle: Creation from soaring in the ways that it might have as an origin story for the origin story that leads into The Conjuring.

Isn't she just a...doll?
That being said, none of the above really occurred to me until after Annabelle: Creation when I was mentally chewing on it for this review. That’s why this film works. Sandberg directs the hell out of this film and makes it so tense, visual appealing, and genuinely fun that the problematic script doesn’t seem problematic at all as the audience is absorbed into each sequence. That scarecrow scene mentioned above? It leaves a person on the edge of their seat and I heard multiple audible gasps during it from the small but dedicated theatrical audience. This happens time and time again throughout the film. In a lot of ways, Sandberg truly feels like Wan’s protégé in the manner that he manipulates visuals, lighting, design, and tension with the film and it’s a winning combination to take the subtle creepy elements and jolt them with the usual mainstream horror jump scares that audience’s love. Some of the scary moments may not make sense ultimately, including a bunk bed sequence with one of the girls that seemingly builds to nothing, but watching Sandberg work with the material showcases just how much of a modern artist he is in the genre.

Let the spirit of the franchise lift you up, they said.
Of course, the rest of the film is certainly solid too. The performances from a multitude of young actresses help carry the emotional weight of the film and punctuate some of the scares and tension that Sandberg pulls out of the script. Outside of a few patchy CGI sequences the special effects hold up too to help out the general tone of the film as a supernatural horror flick. Yet, it’s obvious that the MVP of Annabelle: Creation is director Sandberg who rocks n’ rolls this flick well above and beyond what it should have been with its questionable script and odd narrative structure that feeds in scary sequences whether they belong or not. Fans of The Conjuring franchise have nothing to worry about here and should love what this spinoff entry has to offer in terms of tone and tension. And with over $250 million in the worldwide box office to its $15 million budget, it won’t be shocking at all to see how New Line and James Wan somehow bring Annabelle back for a third film.

If each entry continually gets better as this one did over its predecessor, I’ll be ready for Annabelle 3: Doll Hard with a Vengeance when it drops. Until then, I suppose we will all just have to deal with the plethora of other spinoffs heading our way from The Conjuring-verse.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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