By Jennifer Brandon
In the fourth film of the Conjuring series, “Annabelle: Creation” communicates the origin story of the possessed doll, Annabelle, who was shown briefly in the first film, “The Conjuring” and takes the audience to the time before its predecessor, “Annabelle” was based. Director David F. Sandberg entertains audiences with plenty of jump-scares, a creepy kid, and eerie depictions of an evil spirit. If you are unfamiliar with the series, you may have missed the connections to the other films. However, one can still appreciate the film without knowledge of the franchise’s history.
Sandberg eloquently establishes the origin by introducing the audience to the Mullins family living in a 1940’s rural California farmhouse. Dollmaker, Sam (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) have a young daughter named Annabelle who dies in a heartbreaking accident. After his daughter’s death, Sam stops production of his latest porcelain-faced doll, making it the only one of its kind.
The couple continues to mourn the loss of her 12 years later. Esther is now confined to her bedroom by choice, but convinces Sam to open their home to 6 orphaned girls and their guardian, Catholic nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). The scene is set with the makings of good horror movie from the beginning; a dead child, a grieving couple, the sprawling old house in the middle of nowhere, displaced children from broken homes, and, as in all of the movies in the franchise – a connection to the Catholic church.
Sandberg focuses on two children in particular as he establishes the groundwork for the revelation of the evil doll. Janice (Talitha Bateman) – a polio-stricken girl with limited mobility – is forbidden by Sam to enter an upstairs bedroom next to the room she shares with her only friend in the group, Linda (Lulu Wilson). The curiosity of Janice leads her into a journey so sinister, she may never return.
Talitha Bateman’s performance is outstanding and most of the knuckle-whitening scenes include her character. She gives the uncanny children of horror classics a face many will remember for years.
Inevitably, Linda notices the changes in Janice and tries to intervene, which begins an onslaught of terror. The spiraling staircase of fright rapidly moves on and the flash-scares become more prominent. The most interesting scare tactic Sandberg uses is silence. Creaking floorboards, heavy breathing, movement that you can hear but can’t see, a record player playing a song from a dead child’s past – these are all intensified by the silence of the old farm house.
This is a film that keeps the audience engaged, but to appreciate all of the elements put into this ominous work of art, one must watch all of the movies in “The Conjuring” universe. Sandberg’s obvious tie-ins to the past movies are poetic to fans of the series, and are bound to excite them for the next spinoff, “The Nun,” which will be released in July of 2018.
Gotcha about the first-person. You’ve got it right! Perhaps the feelings you felt, you could still convey, but just as a possibility in the third-person sense? As far as the “jump-scares,” I guess it’s just a personal thing with me. Maybe I’m being too much of a grammar Nazi? As far as “twists and turns,” I’m thinking a “whirlwind of terror” or “spiraling staircase of fright.” What do you think?