Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia
The question running through every horror fan’s mind right now is, how does the new Annabelle flick stack up to its predecessor? Perhaps a better question may be, does Annabelle: Creation fit comfortably into the Conjuring Universe?
First, Annabelle: Creation is most certainly a major improvement over John R. Leonetti’s initial Annabelle feature. While Leonetti’s flick is slim on pizzazz and surprisingly forgettable, David F. Sandberg uses a few slick visual tricks to keep the aesthetics interesting, and works with a cast that holds the viewer’s attention. The cast of the first Annabelle film just lacked charisma, plain and simple – it was a vanilla cast and we didn’t get much in the way of flavor from that crew. This lineup is a bit different, and between veterans like Anthony LaPaglia and uber prospect Lulu Wilson, there are enough dynamic performances to keep the viewer invested.
Now, does the film work successfully within the Conjuring Universe? Absolutely. Sandberg does a surprisingly impressive job of tying the events of this film directly into the events of Annabelle. This is most certainly a genuine origin story, and it’s an often emotional one (there’s a scene inside the first five minutes of the film that will leave your jaw on the floor), at that, but the transition between the film’s finale and Annabelle’s introductory moments is about as close to seamless as one could hope for.
There’s little need to actually delve into the plot details of this picture. The movie has been marketed as a piece that would explain how the Annabelle doll has become haunted, or possessed, and it does just that. There’s a hole in the explanation that’s basically filled with vagueness (we thought our daughter had come back – but it was something else), and that’s one of the pic’s greatest copouts, but the story surrounding that elucidation is strong enough to enable viewers to look beyond that rather lazy and cliché move by writer Gary Dauberman. When all is said and done, we learn that two grieving parents, essentially through will-power, enable an entity to invade the Annabelle doll. They do so believing it’s the spirit of their daughter wanting a way to be physically closer to her parents, and that’s not the case. The ebb and flow of the narrative isn’t paramount to the history of the doll, but it does fluctuate enough to keep viewers on their toes.
Speaking of plot, and writer Gary Dauberman, there have been some major improvements employed by the screenwriter, and it’s extremely obvious and worthy of major praise. While Annabelle could hardly project a pulse, Annabelle: Creation is quite lively and definitely mirrors the tone of the first two Conjuring films, despite the differences in time period and character. Whatever wasn’t working too well for Dauberman during the creation of the first Annabelle film, it’s working overtime at this point. That’s a good sign, especially given the fact that Dauberman also wrote the script for the forthcoming big screen rendition of Stephen King’s It. So, to truncate my thoughts on Dauberman – he’s shown the growth needed to swim with sharks, and he earns an enormous wealth of respect in doing so.
Sandberg delivers a handful of the jump scares that helped launch his career (look into his short films, or even his feature film debut, Lights Out for endless examples of refined jump scares), but he also showcases an ability to develop, nurture and uncork very real dread. We’re talking the kind of terror that creeps up and just looms over the viewer. That’s precisely what this film needed, and these scares feel far more gratifying than anything produced by Lights Out. Sandberg made a few adjustments, and they’re quite successful; it doesn’t feel like too great a stretch to picture James Wan, Mike Flanagan and David Sandberg ruling the genre without competition in another decade. This trio could be today’s Carpenter, Craven and Romero, and we’re blessed to be present as history unfolds.
Annabelle: Creation is the Annabelle film we deserved in 2014. David Sandberg, as it turns out, was certainly the man for the job, and experiencing the evolution of Gary Dauberman (he also wrote the underrated and impressive Wolves at the Door, which is actually one of the better takes on the Manson murders) has been nothing short of scintillating. Given the disastrous launch of Universal’s Dark Universe, there’s been concern on my part about expanding and developing a Conjuring Universe, but Blumhouse, James Wan and the many minds invested in this mammoth project seem far better prepared to manufacture an interwoven world of terror than the folks at Universal. Sometimes it’s about pure talent and passion, as opposed to A-list stars and mountains of money – Blumhouse gets it, unfortunately Universal seems clueless. At least we’ve got one great thing to admire in the commercial landscape of the genre.