In 2013, modern master of horror James Wan gave us The Conjuring. Its positive reception and massive box office success started a new renaissance of horror films being taken seriously again from audiences and critic alike. While I think the films are kind of overrated, especially the ridiculously bloated and silly sequel, I respect their craft and their impact. What I don’t respect as much is a movie studio taking any successful film they can and milking it in any way possible. Since then, we’ve gotten a Conjuring film nearly every year, with the 2014 prequel Annabelle officially kicking off a Conjuring Cinematic Universe (the CCU I guess?). Ugh. There’s really no escape from these cinematic universes, is there?

Now, we get the prequel to that prequel. Didn’t you always want to know how Annabelle became the infamous demonic doll? In Annabelle: Creation, dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) lives out in rural America with his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and young daughter Bee (Samara Lee). After Bee dies in a freak accident, the couple never truly moves on, trying anything they can to still have a connection with her. Twelve years later, they take in a group of foster girls in order to get over their loss. Unfortunately, spooky things involving a creepy doll start happening shortly thereafter, putting everyone in danger.

Although I’m not a big fan of this series or clearly studio crafted horror films like this, I was actually looking forward to this one. Similar to 2016’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, this was a prequel to a terrible horror film with actual talent behind it. David F. Sandberg directed Lights Out, one of the better and more original horror films of 2016. He displayed that he can build a great mood and tension, and actually knows how to use an effective jump scare to pay off a great scene. Sandberg flexes those same talents here, delivering us some wonderfully creepy and tense sequences of demonic doll action. His direction is very stylish, with great camerawork and cinematography keeping everything visually interesting and appropriately unsettling. Things do get pretty silly near the end, though, when everything gets ramped up, complete with terrible CGI and laughable demonic imagery.

The problem is the script written by Gary Dauberman, who is one of the people who stuck around from the last film. For as well directed and occasionally creepy the film is, there’s not really a connective tissue to it all. The plot is incredibly thin, but still feels somewhat confused in its narrative goal. There are too many stories attempted to told here, from a grieving family, to people trying to find their place in the world, to demonic possessions. Some character aspects are interesting, but nothing is ever really given any time to develop. What’s the point of having so many characters in a horror film if you’re not going to have a high body count? There’s hardly a satisfying payoff to any scene and they mostly just fall flat. The horror elements are shoddily incorporated, as they’re all too loosely connected to really make much sense. It’s not like we haven’t seen all of this stuff before anyway, considering I called every scare from the start of each scene. It just felt like a bunch of admittedly well made horror vignettes woven through a hackneyed narrative.

Annabelle: Creation is a film with incredibly confident direction and filled with many great sequences of horror, but it unfortunately doesn’t have anything there in the story or plot department to back it up. There just really doesn’t seem to be anything to do with this Conjuring franchise, especially when some of the films are just about demonic dolls. Next we have The Nun, based off the spooky nun from The Conjuring 2 (who is teased in this film in an eye rolling fashion). That one will also be written by Dauberman, so we’ll see how that turns out, but I don’t have high hopes. I don’t really care much for demonic horror to begin with, but this whole Conjuring series just doesn’t do anything form me.

On a somewhat related note, there was a 4-minute preview scene of It before the film and it was fantastic. I’m pretty much sold on Bill Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise now and it seems like it could be a pretty effective horror film. I just found out, though, that It is co-written by Dauberman, as well, so… I guess we’ll see what happens with that in a couple weeks.


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