I know that horrifying looking dolls are like their own thing. Maybe back in them Victorian days kids were delighted by these tortured looking tiny people. This was back in the days when they had playrooms though, and the ghoulish staring eyes of the nightmare being wouldn’t be burrowing into you as you tried to sleep. I’ve them dark childhood memories of lying awake at night when the shadows turned even the friendliest toys against me.
What I’m trying to get at is that Annabelle the doll is a truly demented looking thing and outside of the production designer for a horror movie literally no one would have made it. Like, y’all can search etsy for possessed dolls and I tell you now, not a single one of them comes close to looking like Annabelle. So when Annabelle: Creation tries to explain in its opening minutes the literal creation of the prop, it so unbelievable.
It just some folksy, down home toymaker making a limited run of dolls in his shed. He loves his family and goes to church every Sunday, after the service the owner of the local general store be all like, ‘Everyone loves your dolls Sam. When you gonna have some new dolls ready? Them dolls just flying off the shelves.’ Somehow that man looks at this monster he created and thinks, ‘Good job Sam, really nailed that one.’ instead of choosing to light it on fire as any sane person would.
At the same time his Wednesday Adams lookin daughter, whose name we do not learn, dies in a tragic accident. The story picks up twelve years later when he invites the remaining residents of a recently closed orphanage to live in his house. After one of them discovers the creepiest doll in the universe in a locked closet in a locked room, some spooky shit starts to go down.
It ain’t all doll stuff though, like the Conjuring movies that these span off of the script chooses to diversify it scares as much as possible. So in addition to the doll we got a spooky demon gremlin kid who can also transform into a spooky tall Javier Botet style demon, and The Nun from Conjuring 2 gets some additional airtime before her first feature, there’s also a real pathetic attempt made by a living scarecrow who really don’t seem like he even trying, dude gets a whole barn sequence to himself and it just falls flat.
Honestly, when they’re building up this whole interconnected franchise mythology it can’t help but feel like the cast of Annabelle: Creation is the monsters’ B-team. Say they know the demon nun can carry her own weight but they gotta throw a whole bunch at the wall here to see what sticks. None of it does really, David F. Sandberg sure got some chops on him but he’s still a way off James Wan and he’s stuck with this script too that don’t give him no favours.
It contrives to have lovely father Sam from those opening minutes turn into someone unwelcoming and gruff, often openly hostile towards the guests his house. Maybe it’s trying to set up a suspicion of the guy but if so that totally fails, he just comes across like an uncommunicative curmudgeon; a bad look when the literal forces of hell are rampaging around your house. The screenplay claims it was his wife’s idea to invite them but then contrives a reason for her to be locking in a room the entire running time.
If these kinds of narrative contrivances that bring the film to its knees, the characterisation of these folks decks it. Gary Dauberman’s script don’t really got no comprehension of how young women act outside of the shallowest stereotypes. Why, in a community of six people do the two oldest have to be the bitchiest mean girls possible? They’re cartoonish. The middle two are total nonentities, they’re given no characterisation, nothing to do, and they just disappear off the screen for about half the feature.
The two youngest are our leads and their chemistry is wildly curtailed by the enormous gap in their quality as actors. Like, one of them is giving this amazing living performance, and it’s flying against someone who is transparently delivering their parent’s line readings. Every scene between the two of them is this astonishing array of dropped balls and non starters. When we break outta that, and get a scene maybe between this young actor, Talitha Bateman, and Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) the film feels loose and easy again.
Not that its looseness is really a benefit sometimes. Like there’s this bit where the film decided to transition between two scenes by tracking the camera into a cross on the wall, while doing a 180 degree flip so the cross looks upside down, then it pans up the wall and transitions to emerging out of a well for the next scene. It is honestly one of the most cartoonish things I been seeing recently. So extra.
I’d give the film credit for setting up all its moving elements but most of them don’t even get paid off satisfyingly. The well is just a well, something gets thrown down it but that’s about it. The biggest crime is the stairlift, which it spends full minutes on at the lead, not getting any time at all. Imma throw this all down at the feet of this franchise’s lack of focus. This film has too many spooksters that are too ill defined to really mean anything.
The scarecrow can walk on the ceiling now? Sure. The big demon has telekinesis? If you like. There too much here to establish a credible, definitive threat. So when shit starts to go down I don’t got no idea what to fear. It’s that which kills the film.
Annabelle: Creation is currently screening in UK cinemas.