Annabelle prequel creates some truly blood-curdling chills

Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the girls look on in fear as the spirit wreaks havoc.
Annabelle: Creation
Director: David F Sandberg
Stars: Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Stephanie Sigman, Samara Lee
Rating: ★★★★

FILM REVIEW
By JESSICA CARRASCÃLAO HEARD

There’s nothing like the motivation that can come from a soul-crushingly harsh critique for movie makers. At least, that seems to be the impetus for the horror film Annabelle: Creation.

It is the fourth film in The Conjuring franchise universe and is the prequel to 2014’s Annabelle, which was itself a spinoff of The Conjuring (2013). Panned by criticsAnnabelle was labelled boring, clichéd, and simply not scary enough.

The creators needed to redeem themselves with Annabelle: Creation.

And redeem themselves they did – with  hair-raising, blood-curdling gusto.

Set in the mid-1950s in rural United States, Annabelle: Creation tells the story of six orphaned girls and a nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) who have been left homeless after their orphanage closed.

They are welcomed into the home of dollmaker Samuel Mullens (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto), 12 years after the couple lost their daughter Bee (Samara Lee) in a road accident.

At first, the secluded homestead and surrounding fields are a paradise for the girls. But the house spirals into supernatural chaos when Janice (Talitha Bateman) is lured into a locked room and discovers a sinister doll, the titular Annabelle.

With that discovery, a malevolent spirit is released that mercilessly hunts the household for souls to reap.

Janice (Talitha Bateman) struggles, trapped by the spirit.

It is clear from the outset that the filmmakers wanted the movie to leave a spine-chillingly good impression. It is tightly constructed with a strong cast, beautiful visuals and a skin-crawling score.

Like its predecessor, it is full of clichés. Flickering lights, crucifixes, eyes glowing through darkness all feature. But although they feel familiar, writer Gary Dauberman has taken great care to ensure the clichés happen for calculated reasons.

No cliché in this film is just a nod to the genre; nothing happens for the sole purpose of making the audience jump. Each happens because a character, whether good or bad, has deliberately decided that this course of action, or this manner of being, is the best one to help them succeed.

We rarely see the spirit in its true form, which is as it should be. As any film thrill-seeker knows, a formless menace is much, much scarier than a beast in full sight. Darkness is an essential hiding place and if light is unavoidable, the spirit remains invisible or disguises itself in other forms.

The characters find safety in daylight and it’s here the audience finds reprieve from the fright. But, thanks to the masterful pacing of this film, as it goes on daylight becomes less safe and periods of reprieve are cut shorter and shorter, pushing viewers closer to the edge of their seats.

There is also emotional complexity in this film thanks to Sandberg’s direction and the cast’s performances. Samuel and Esther Mullins’ sorrow and regret at the loss of their daughter is never swept aside, even through their fear.

The children are also not generic, fearful little girls. Rather, each has her own character, her own motives, and her own strengths.

If you want a film with clever writing and strong performances look no further. A word of warning: you might be too frightened to stay to the end of the credits, lest you find yourself alone in the cinema.