By Jim Slotek
It's not as if anybody was demanding Annabelle Creation.
Sure, superhero movies usually insist from the get-go that we hear about the effect of gamma rays on man-in-the-moon spiders. But origin stories in horror films are often a sign that they’re scraping the story barrel.
It was three movies into the Nightmare On Elm Street series before we found out that Freddy Krueger was the bastard son of a hundred maniacs. And I could have lived without learning whatever childhood trauma it was that turned Leatherface into a chainsaw-wielding cannibal.
Evil is evil in the horror genre. It seldom needs an explanation.
That said, the evil doll Annabelle – who went from a cameo in The Conjuring to her own meh spin-off movie in 2014 – is the least important thing in this decently scary latest film from the prolific horror-filmmakers Blumhouse Productions.
I mean, she’s there, sitting, doing nothing most of the time, except maybe turning her head when you’re not looking.
But then, she has to be there. The movie’s called Annabelle Creation. There were probably moments on set when they were ready to shoot a scene and somebody noticed they forgot the doll.
Blumhouse – which inherited a horror genre in the ‘00s that had been debased by torture porn – made its name with movies like the Paranormal Activity series and Insidious that rebooted jump-out-and-yell-boo as a horror style. And director David F. Sandberg utilizes their full bag of tricks in Annabelle Creation. Doors open and close by themselves. Book pages turn. Footsteps come at you to a thunderous soundtrack. If you turn your head, you can be damn sure something scary will be staring you in the face when you turn back. Sheets become ambulatory like, er, ghosts. Scarecrows do scary things. Lights turn on and off. People get thrown against walls by invisible forces.
In fact, Annabelle Creation could just as easily have been called Ghost House. But that would have been a harder sell.
This prequel is set in the ‘50s, where six girls from a Catholic orphanage – ranging in age from child to bobbysox – are being relocated to an ad hoc orphanage in the spacious-but-dusty home of a tragic couple named The Mullinses (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto). The girls have got the run of the place, save for one room THAT THEY’RE NEVER ALLOWED TO ENTER!
Why? Polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Bateman) finds out when she discovers both the doll and a little-girl entity that, in so many gravelly, death-metalish words, wants her soul.
Janice’s sister-ish best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) picks up on the demonic goings on, but their chaperone Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the other girls are frustratingly slow on the uptake.
Not to worry. All Hell does break loose eventually.
And through it all, Annabelle just sits there. It makes you miss the hyperactivity of Chucky.
As an explanation for how a devil doll came to be, Annabelle Creation is pretty thin (and contains a major flaw in story logic that, all I’ll say, involves the Catholic Church)
But then, horror fans aren’t there for the narrative. They’re there for stuff that makes you jump out of your seat. Annabelle Creation may be Blumhouse by-the-numbers. But they’re still reliably scary numbers.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.