Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a doll maker in small town. He lives with his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and their young daughter Bee (Samara Lee). While coming home from church one Sunday, the family pickup truck gets a flat tire. While changing the tire, Bee runs into the road and is struck and killed by a car. Twelve years later the Mullins open their home to six orphans from a Catholic charity. Overseen by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), the six girls range in age from 10 to 17 and are impressed by the size of their new home. One girl, Janice (Talitha Bateman), has a lame leg due to polio some years earlier. Her best friend is Linda (Lulu Wilson). The two girls are extremely close and hope to be adopted into the same home. Mr. Mullins says his wife Esther won’t be seen much as she was injured several years earlier and stays in her room in bed. Mr. Mullins also warns Janice that a room upstairs is locked and is off limits. That doesn’t stop her from investigating when she hears noises coming from the room. When she tries the door it is unlocked and she enters to find what looks like a little girl’s room filled with dolls and an elaborate dollhouse that looks very much like the Mullins’ home. In the dollhouse she finds a key and soon finds the door it opens inside the room. There she finds a doll sitting in a chair and the walls of the room are covered with pages torn from the Bible. Spooked by the appearance of the doll she closes the door but it opens on its own. Hurrying back to her room when she sees Mr. Mullins, Janice is unaware of the evil she has released from its prison where it was safely kept for the last 12 years.
“Annabelle: Creation” gives us the backstory of how the creepy looking doll introduced in “The Conjuring,” and got her own movie “Annabelle,” became cursed with a demon. Good scary movies are hard to find and the initial Rotten Tomatoes score was extremely high. It settled down into the upper 60’s by the films’ release and now, having seen it, I think that number is just about right.
“Annabelle: Creation” has only one really seat-jumping moment in it and that has nothing to do with ghosts or demons. It happens early when the daughter and father are playing a game of hide and seek and the father appears from the side of the screen and tackles the little girl to the floor and tickles her. It is a heartwarming domestic moment that starts with a bit of a scare. All the rest of the alleged scary moments that follow are weak in comparison. “Annabelle: Creation” does a very good job of building tension, establishing dread and creating the right conditions for some heart-stopping moments on screen. What it fails to do is actually deliver those moments.
Films like “Annabelle: Creation” frequently use sound, or the lack of sound, to heighten tension. Knowing something is going to jump out from the shadows or appear behind the person being stalked is made all the more frightening when all the ambient sound you’d expect to hear is suddenly silenced. We take for granted the whirring of heating and air units, the hum of refrigerators and the buzz of electric lights. It all fades into the background of “white noise” as we live our lives; however, on those rare occasions when the power goes out and everything stops working, you realize just how much noise constantly surrounds us. During “Annabelle: Creation” we are treated to perfect silence sometimes punctuated by ragged, fast breathing just before the monster appears. Sadly, these frights never live up to the buildup that precedes them.
Some of the performances are also underwhelming: Namely Anthony LaPaglia. His Samuel Mullins is a bit of a creeper once the girls move into the house. He’ll walk by open doorways and stand and stare at the girls as they are talking. It is later explained that he fears for the girls’ safety but it never comes off as concern. It is more like someone that doesn’t know how to interact with people; perhaps like he has a condition that makes talking to people difficult. He rarely smiles or nods as a simple acknowledgement of other people’s existence, he just walks away awkwardly. It is a sometimes painful performance to watch and I have to wonder what made director David F. Sandberg and LaPaglia think this was the right way to go.
A couple of performances I did enjoy where from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson as the best friends Janice and Linda. Bateman does a very convincing scared young girl. She’s able to make the tears roll easily, giving the audience even more reason to feel bad for her as she faces a demonic onslaught. Wilson, whose performance I enjoyed in “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” has a lock on the cherubic innocent market in Hollywood horror films. Wilson does a great job at making us feel her friendship with Janice and sharing her desire to be adopted into a real family. There are some odd choices for her character as the story plays out and the weirdness goes into overdrive but Wilson does a good job at making us root for her and Janice to make it through this scary adventure.
“Annabelle: Creation” is rated R for horror violence and terror. A demon pukes black bile into the mouth of one of the children. A scarecrow comes to life and menaces a couple of girls. One of the girls is dragged into the darkness and a bite shows up on the back of her leg. A girl is dropped from a considerable height onto the floor. A character’s fingers are shown being broken and bent back one at a time by an invisible force. A character is shown with a large injury on her face that removed her eye. A character has his throat slashed and blood is shown spurting. A character is shown transforming into a demon with what sounds like bones breaking. Foul language is scattered.
This is my first foray into “The Conjuring” universe as I haven’t seen any of the other films in the series. I do enjoy scary movies and these films seem to have their fans. “Annabelle: Creation” is ok as a horror movie it just doesn’t have much in the way of scares. It doesn’t help that Anthony LaPaglia turns in an odd performance and comes off as a bit of a creeper. The movie is vastly improved when it focuses on the demon and the orphan on whom it focuses. Considering the movie is projected to make $71 million worldwide in its opening weekend against a budget of $15 million probably means we will be getting more movies about the creepy doll and the bad things that happen to those that own it. Ramp up the scares and I’m in.
“Annabelle: Creation” gets three stars out of five.
This week there are two new films and both will be reviewed by me. First I’ll see “Logan Lucky” and review it for WIMZ.com.
Then I’ll watch “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and review that for stanthemovieman.com.
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