Combustible Celluloid
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With: Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Philippa Coulthard, Grace Fulton, Samara Lee, Tayler Buck, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence and terror.
Running Time: 109
Date: 08/11/2017

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director David F. Sandberg (of the brilliant Lights Out) takes on this fourth film in the Conjuring franchise -- which includes The Conjuring (2013), Annabelle (2014), and The Conjuring 2 (2016) -- and though his sequel offers little that's new, it's so skillful and spirited that it works.

Annabelle: Creation takes place before any of the other films. In it, toy maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) lovingly creates the spooky doll that would later go on to cause trouble in Annabelle and The Conjuring. Just when things seem to be going well, Samuel and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) lose their little daughter, Bee, in an accident.

A dozen years later, Samuel decides to open his home to a group of orphaned girls, including Janice (Talitha Bateman), who suffers from polio, and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson). Janice is immediately struck by a forbidden room and enters. Something draws her toward a door and she opens it, finding the doll. From that moment on, terrifying things begin happening in the house, from scary noises to things moving around by themselves. But when the threat grows worse, it's time to get out.

Sandberg proves that the old tricks and scares continue to be effective if performed with artistry and enthusiasm. It helps that spooky dolls are, like spooky clowns, a sort of horror mainstay; they will always be scary. Sandberg sets up shop in a remote farmhouse, filled with dark rooms, a dumbwaiter, a stairway lift, doll parts, and a creepy barn guarded by an old scarecrow. He smoothly glides his camera through it all like a nightmare that's happening in front of us.

Annabelle: Creation does use plenty of familiar tricks, such as the thing that scuttles toward the camera, the thing that turns suddenly toward the camera, and the thing that is yanked away into darkness. Many of the scares are jump-shocks, but the amazing sound design also helps to build a bracing sense of dreadful suspense. The characters don't always do the smartest thing at the right time, but for the most part, they are forgiven; they can't have seen very many horror movies to know what to do.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release comes with a bonus DVD and digital copy. Picture is extremely good, with a very fine representation of blacks, and the sound is superb. Extras begin with a pretty extraordinary 42-minute "on directing" featurette, wherein the director lets us in on his technique, what a director really does. He also contributes a detailed commentary track and shares two of his earlier horror shorts, the excellent Attic Panic and the slightly-less-excellent Coffer, although both films demonstrate a strong sense of editing, sound, and sound direction. There is also a deleted scenes featurette (about 12 minutes), and a short, studio-produced featurette on the Conjuring franchise as a whole, featuring James Wan, and a couple of seconds about the upcoming The Nun.

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