Before you say anything and roll your eyes so hard they do a complete 180, I hear you… Why would anyone subject themselves to an origin-story prequel to a spin-off, a belaboured attempt to wring as much profitability as possible out of an ongoing horror series? The first attempt to give Chucky’s less sweary sister a story of her own was a disaster and revealed to what extent The Conjuring creators were cynically calquing Marvel’s lucrative franchise-building model in order to churn out mystique-shattering origin stories… So why bother?
Well, as much as no one would blame you for approaching Annabelle: Creation with well-earned trepidation, know that this pre-prequel is far better than it ought to be. Granted, considering the dumpster fire that was the first Annabelle film, there wasn’t much competition; but thanks in large part to David F. Sandberg, this horror yarn can be filed alongside last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil as a follow-up which comfortably surpasses its predecessor.
Set decades before Annabelle, we learn – as the title subtly suggests – the origins of the possessed Mattel reject and how a clutter of orphaned girls will drain their foster parent’s income on therapy, as they spend their time dementedly running around an isolated farmhouse in the hope that a demonic entity doesn’t latch onto their souls. It’s completely by-the-book but competently helmed by a filmmaker whose skill clearly outshines this studio-mandated fare. The series’ obligatory loud jump scares are just as uninspiring as before, but are here matched with a flair for framing negative space, an excellent use of set pieces and a standout performance from Lulu Wilson. The pint-sized thesp impresses not only with her facial expressions but also perfectly delivered lines like “Who cares? Run!” while others are pondering the ‘how’ behind devilish deeds when they should be scarpering.
The end result is an immediately forgettable western gothic that won’t get under your skin like far superior recent horror releases like Get Out or Raw, but one that will efficiently pass the time until the much-anticipated release of Stephen King’s It remake. Then, we’ll have the dubious pleasure of welcoming further unwarranted Conjuring spin-offs The Nun and The Crooked Man onto the screens. Formulaic fun is the best we can hope for, but Annabelle: Creation teaches us that while standards have been lowered, that’s still something.
Annabelle: Creation | Directed by David F Sandberg (US 2017), with Anthony LaPaglia, Stephanie Sigman, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman. Starts August 24
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