Driving to the theatre yesterday, I asked myself: “I’m on my way to see the sequel to the spinoff-prequel to The Conjuring. How good can this be?” I’m happy to report I was pleasantly surprised.
The story set-up was out of the ordinary for your average supernatural thriller: In the 1950’s, a small group of orphaned young girls and their caretaker, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), travel to the remote house of doll maker Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto). The couple’s daughter Annabelle (Samara Lee) had passed 12 years earlier and an air of eerie melancholy permeates the residence upon the orphans’ arrival. The girls leave behind the disabled Janice (Talitha Bateman), so she wanders into Annabelle’s old room and finds a creepy doll hidden within the walls that are plastered in torn pages from the Bible. This sets of a chain of paranormal events that plague the Mullins and young girls for the remainder of the film.
One of Creation‘s strongest points is that writer Gary Dauberman sets up an effective family and social drama before the horror even begins. We meet the Mullins just before the accident that takes the life of Annabelle. Their relationships are of a modest but happy family and the actors convince us of such. The same can be said of Sister Charlotte and her group of six orphaned girls as we meet them all on the bus on the way to their new home. The place is their only option or else the orphans will be disbanded. Not only do we feel for the kids, but this also gives them a logical reason to want to stay when the paranormal events begin happening. The film’s nearly two-hour running time leaves space for character development and atmosphere. The subtle music score by Benjamin Wallfisch also complements the story without telling us how to feel or when to be afraid.
Dauberman and director David F. Sandberg create layers of mystery and a plethora of scares that complements the tone set up by producer James Wan in The Conjuring 1 & 2. The Mullins home is surrounded by miles of prairie and Esther Mullins spends her days in bed behind curtains and a closed door. Samuel also feels reluctant having the girls there for reasons unbeknownst to us (at first). Sandberg succeeds in keeping us in the dark metaphorically and literally as most of the house scenes are kept in shadow, often even in daytime.
Creation also benefits from an unpredictability that most prequels and horror films don’t possess. Prequels usually feature familiar characters that we know will survive because they will go on to future films. So the suspense and mystery can be limited. But we’re introduced to a whole new group of characters in this film, so anything can happen. The scares are also numerous and the demonic force can take various shapes. Hence, you never know how or when the evil might appear.
Sandberg gave us a horror treat last summer with his feature debut Lights Out and his latest outing is even better. His second feature Annabelle: Creation stands superior to the first Annabelle film but nicely connects to it in theme and aesthetic and with an overall storytelling quality that matches Wan’s previous The Conjuring films. On the way home from the theatre, I happily remarked to myself: “That sequel to the prequel spinoff of The Conjuring was pretty damn good!”
PS: Be sure to stay through the end credits for a bonus scene!
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