I feel bad for dollmakers, I really do. They work their butts off, day in and day out, to make exquisite toys and bring joy to children all over the world. Then a movie like Annabelle: Creation comes along and ruins them for everybody. Annabelle: Creation is to dolls what Jaws is to beaches. So no, no thank you. No more dolls. Dolls are dead to me now. Sorry, dollmakers.
Of course, Annabelle: Creation is only the latest in a long line of killer doll movies. Michael Redgrave had a great killer doll in the 1945 horror classic Dead of Night. Karen Black fought valiantly against a killer doll in the horror anthology Trilogy of Terror. Chucky killed more disbelieving adults than I could reasonably count throughout the Child’s Play franchise, and he’s still going strong. Then of course there’s the first Conjuring prequel, Annabelle, which sucked, and didn’t leave Annabelle: Creation filmmaker David F. Sandberg much to work with.
Fortunately, he pulled it off. Annabelle: Creation is one of the scariest killer doll movies ever made. Sandberg stays far away from the previous film, for the most part, by setting the events of Creation long before even the first Conjuring prequel. Sure, that makes Annabelle: Creation a prequel to a prequel, which probably breaks some cardinal rule of storytelling etiquette, but Sandberg gets away with it. He’s telling his own story, an old-fashioned spook story, replete with glowing eyes popping out of the shadows, flickering lights and inanimate objects that only move in the darkness, and playthings that are definitely not playing around. It’s so hair-raising and exciting, you’ll quickly forget that the other Annabelle even existed.
Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto star as toymakers who, in the prologue, lose their daughter in a senseless, fatal accident. Many years later they finally open their home back up to children by allowing castaways from a local orphanage to take up residence, along with a kindly young nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). But it doesn’t take long for little Janice (Talitha Bateman), a girl on crutches, to find her way into the dead girl’s bedroom. She unlocks a secret closet door and finds the freakiest fucking doll around. And naturally that freaky fucking doll wants to swallow her soul.
Annabelle is not your typical killer doll. She doesn’t toddle around the house killing people with knives. She doesn’t cackle into the camera. Annabelle is a conduit for an evil demon and as such, the rules are a little wishy-washy about what she can and cannot do. David F. Sandberg has fun, at first, simply teasing the audience with subtle scares: the doll’s head moves between shots, and she moves closer to the camera when she’s out of focus. You know the drill. But Sandberg is no tease, and Annabelle: Creation eventually transforms into a hardcore horror funhouse ride, the sort of mad, jump-scare-a-palooza that reminds you of an unbridled, young Sam Raimi.
As the tension mounts, so too does the supernatural gimmickry. Annabelle: Creation takes a hard right from killer doll country and right into Poltergeist territory, but who could possibly mind when the result is entertaining as hell? The shocking scares, the whip crack pacing and the immensely engaging cast make Annabelle: Creation a real treat, and the perfect horror film to watch with a big, shrieking crowd.
David F. Sandberg even does a great job of hiding the fact that, once you get down to it, Annabelle: Creation isn’t really about anything, and doesn’t have much to offer beyond sheer entertainment value. Yes, evil is bad. Also, goodness is good, don’t mess with demons and all dolls are bastards. That’s about all there is to it, and that’s okay. Once Annabelle: Creation gets going it doesn’t stop long enough for the audience to catch their breath, let alone think about where the subtext went.
It’s tempting to say that Annabelle: Creation ain’t playing around, but it is. David F. Sandberg is just toying with us. Fortunately he’s an expert at this game. Annabelle: Creation is a great time at the movies, a chilling film for a hot summer day, and one of the most entertaining horror movies of the year.
Top Photo: Warner Bros.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.