In what is the second spin-off to come out of The Conjuring franchise, one of the series’ defining features is the period setting, with each film set across the decade that spans from the late 60s to the late 70s. It’s a device that is breeding triumphant horror – for everything, the eponymous doll included, is hand-crafted, the wooden floors creek, and things go bump in the night, they don’t beep. It’s taking the tropes of the genre back to these basics which allows for such engaging cinema to transpire, and Annabelle: Creation is no different.
Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a doll-maker behind the nefarious child’s toy Annabelle. Alongside his wife (Miranda Otto) the pair have to overcome the tragic passing of their young daughter. Years later, they open up their home to several orphans, accompanied by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). But as the curious young girls arrive, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson) take an interest into the couple’s deceased offspring, and nosily play in her old bedroom, despite being instructed to stay well clear. It’s here they discover Annabelle, and when this doll is taken out of its confinement, it seems that the devil comes along with it.
It’s an age-old technique in the horror genre, but it becomes patently clear why we place children at the heart of the narrative. You adhere to their unwavering, naïve sense of curiosity, which is usually such an issue in this genre (don’t go in the basement by yourself FFS), while there’s an added element of mystery that comes with it, for these youngsters have such an over-active imagination, you’re led to doubt whether they you’re seeing is genuine, or all in their head. Naturally having child protagonists also injects a sense of vulnerability, and this is heightened for the lead character of Janice who is suffering from polio. As she walks around on crutches, she’s instantly put on the back foot, and this maximises the terror as she has to escape several precarious situations.
Unfortunately however, director David F. Sandberg can be accused of showing the viewer a little too much, particularly in the closing act. Being elusive, using symbolism and hidden messages enriches films of this nature, whereas actually showing us the chief antagonist only detaches us from the story at hand (the devil is always a far more frightening proposition in our mind than it ever could be when depicted, after all). But no such criticisms are aimed at the Annabelle doll, which is utilised so well, and Sandberg has no qualms constantly showing us her face, often half-disguised by shadows. In this instance, with a doll this creepy, it’s only right we get constantly exposed to it. Just good luck sleeping after this one.
Annabelle: Creation is released on August 11th.