Title: Annabelle: Creation
Described This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Lisa: Wait! Don't be fooled, she's just a regular Malibu Stacy with a stupid, cheap hat. She still embodies all the awful stereotypes she did before!
Smithers: But she's got a new hat!
Brief Plot Synopsis: Creepy doll is unsurprisingly evil.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Three happy Poltergeist clowns out of five.
Tagline: "You don't know the real story."
Better Tagline: "We're gonna keep making these until you people stop paying to see them."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Twelve years after the tragic death of their daughter, dollmaker Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther (Miranda Otto) Mullins have opened their rural California home to six orphan girls. Shortly thereafter, Janice (Talitha Bateman) – one of the younger girls who also happens to be hobbled by polio – gains access to the dead little girl’s bedroom, finding the old doll her father made for her and apparently awakening a spirit that may or may not have benign intentions (take a wild guess).
"Critical" Analysis: Annabelle: Creation is the prequel to Annabelle, itself a prequel to The Conjuring; a prequel to the prequel, in other words. And even though we literally see the malevolent doll being constructed in this movie, these films have been lucrative enough that there’s little doubt producer James Wan and company could make an infinite series of these, going back to the planting of the tree the doll is eventually carved from and showing how it [throws dart] grew on a cursed Paiute burial ground.
The events herein take place in 1957, 12 years before Annabelle. Period horror is always helpful for eliminating things like smartphones and explaining why nobody breaks windows trying to escape a demon (people were more respectful back then). Construction was also sturdier, which explains why no one else in the house wakes up when two pre-adolescents are shrieking their heads off in the dead of night.
Also, before the events of the film, the Mullins called in an exorcist at one point to deal with the damned doll. You might assume the Catholic Church would’ve been more diligent in its screening of possible orphanage sites. Then again, worrying about the safety of children has never been its strong suit.
That’s not to say Annabelle: Creation is a failure, by any means. There are some effective scares and director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) at least takes a stab at building dread in the first act. And if we have a hard time accepting why the girls keep returning to the property after multiple instances of telekinesis, demon fu and ambulatory scarecrows, Sandberg and writer Gary Dauberman (who also wrote Annabelle) at least ratchet up the unease by making the protagonist disabled, a rarity in horror movies.
(The fact that it's set in the '50s means Gary Busey can't even give you a cool motorcycle/wheelchair hybrid.)
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But here's the thing: Dolls aren’t inherently scary (hot take: neither are clowns). They are (occasionally crude) representations of us, but any incidental unease is a result of the uncanny valley, as most dolls aren’t meant to be accurate depictions of humankind. That’s why horror movies involving a ventriloquist’s dummy or clown toy are effective, because they give that otherwise ordinary object a shove into the sinister. However, all that goes out the window when the doll in question is deliberately crafted to be as disturbing as possible.
This is ultimately what makes LaPaglia's character the true villain of the Annabelle movies. Samuel Mullins's evident hatred for his only daughter, whose birth probably held him back from his celebrity dreams of big-city dollmaking, led him to fashion a moppet so hideous it attracted malign spirits and sent the poor girl into such despair she saw no choice but to throw herself in front of an oncoming car. It’s the only explanation for why anybody would keep that f*cking thing around.
The movies of the Conjuring series present something of a conundrum. They’re fairly well made, in general (the Wan-less Annabelle being distinctly inferior), creating suspenseful atmosphere and securing better than average talent for the proceedings (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga for the original movies, LaPaglia and Otto this time around). On the other hand, the “mythology” is either abject bullshit (the Warrens were notorious frauds) or whatever other elements Wan and company decide to cram in there. Crooked Man? Sure. Creepy nun? Why the hell not (she's even getting her own movie next year)?
And in the end, these movies are just...wearying. One dimly lit jump scare follows another until we're raising our hands not to hide our eyes but to check our watches. Annabelle: Creation is still scarier than most, but it's time to come up with some new tricks.