Jared McMillan // Film Critic
“Cinematic world” is a term that has been at the center of film for decades. The idea is that while the audience is just looking at images projected on a screen, it allows a window to open to an entirely different plane of existence. A cinematic world has its own set of rules, and is ongoing, regardless of edits and run time. A prime example is the “Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)”: these specific set of characters intertwine, and have continuing story arcs away from the initial movie where they are introduced to the audience.
ANNABELLE: CREATION is the latest entry into the cinematic world established by THE CONJURING. What began as a look into the various encounters of Ed and Lorraine Warren, has expanded those stories by giving the backstories of The Warrens’ antagonists, beginning with the sinister doll, Annabelle. The first film, simply titled ANNABELLE, was an attempt that fell flat, mainly because it had problems staying within the cinematic world it’s a part of. However, the movie did make over $250 million worldwide, which gave the producers a chance to give it another shot.
The movie is a prequel, taking place around 25 years from the first one. Set at the house of Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto), whom we meet as a prologue to the main story. He is a toymaker, creating a special line of dolls inspired by his daughter. After church, their daughter is run over by a car as Samuel changes a tire…her name of course, was Annabelle. Skipping ahead 12 years, and The Mullins have taken in an all-girls orphanage, taught by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman).
As they arrive, the audience is introduced to the central characters of the story, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson). Not only are they best friends, but they long to get adopted together. Janice, however, is crippled due to a case of polio, although she is recovering. It is here that we notice the first guideline to connect it to The Conjuring universe, in that the weakest one is usually singled out to later be singled out by the demonic entity. As the girls settle in, Janice gets invited to play by the spirit of Annabelle.
David F. Sandberg, who directed last year’s breakout hit LIGHTS OUT (along with other great short films you can find on YouTube), has done well to honor the rules that James Wan set with the Conjuring movies. Sandberg however is better at manipulating the environment and camera, zigging when you think it’s going to zag. Horror fans will be able to see a couple of his calling cards here and there from his previous shorts. More importantly, he recognizes that Annabelle the doll is merely a MacGuffin, not the actual villain. Because of this misdirection, the sight of the doll starts the anticipation of malevolence, rather than being the scare.
Also, Bateman is really on the mark as Janice, anchoring the majority of the story until her predicament shifts the narrative to Linda and Sister Charlotte. Our empathy is something that stays with her, and is key to keeping the audience drawn in. Coupled with Sandberg’s direction, it’s easy to overlook the flaws of ANNABELLE: CREATION (how did no one hear her screams?). The movie carves its own path, while sticking to the boundaries painted by the previous films, and ends on the exact note to bridge to its predecessor. The audience that’s easily scared will have a great time, and the horror junkies will appreciate all of the little tricks to initiate the scared.