Warner Bros
Chris Nashawaty
August 11, 2017 AT 03:04 PM EDT

Annabelle: Creation

type
Movie
genre
Horror
release date
08/11/17
performer
Stephanie Sigman, Anthony LaPaglia, Lulu Wilson
director
David F. Sandberg
mpaa
R

We gave it a C

When she was first introduced in 2013’s The Conjuring, Annabelle was very much a supporting player – a bit of added creepiness in a first-rate frightfest that already had plenty of creepiness to go around. Based on the (well deserved) success of that film, a year later the demonic doll with the apple cheeks and pigtails became the main attraction in the anemic spin-off, Annabelle. The main stage didn’t serve her well. There just wasn’t enough ‘there’ there to carry her own film. It was nothing more than a quick cash-in to scare up a few bucks while the goosebumps from The Conjuring were still fresh. So, naturally, she’s now been given a sequel. But none of this will seem new to horror fans. Their genre has never known the phrase “Enough is enough.”

Annabelle: Creation isn’t a terrible film. Not exactly. The set-up is promising, and it offers some decent early jump scares. But eventually the thinness of the material becomes overwhelmingly obvious. Directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) and apparently edited by no one, the film is a bloated grab bag of chiller clichés that throws everything at the proverbial wall where nothing really sticks. There’s possessed children with cracking, snapping double joints. There’s an old dark house with creaky doors, bumps in the night, and closets one shouldn’t go into, especially after being warned against doing exactly that. There’s old record players that mysteriously start playing scratchy old-time tunes seemingly of their own accord. And there’s maniacal looking dolls.

With a cast that includes Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto, there was at least some hope that Annabelle: Creation might be a cut above ‘meh.’ But, faultless though they are, they’re as trapped as the gaggle of helpless pint-sized victims in the film. The two actors play a married couple who, in the film’s opening stretch, lose their daughter in a tragic accident. Cut to twelve years later, and they’ve turned their sprawling farm house into an orphanage, which they hope will act as a balm for their loss. Needless to say, it doesn’t. At least, we do find out where Annabelle came from, though. LaPaglia is the dollmaker who created her.

When a group of young orphan girls moves in to the grieving couple’s home (although Otto largely hides in bed with a Phantom of the Opera-style faceplate for reasons later explained), the past comes alive. A demonic presence starts haunting them with night time shocks and blink-fast appearances. The movie, though, can’t seem to decide whether the haunting should be done by the couple’s dead daughter, or Annabelle, or a random scarecrow that pops up for no reason besides…hell, it’s just another cliché to throw at the wall. The scares aren’t especially clever or well-choreographed. Instead of artfully engineered frights, Sandberg goes for cackling sadism. In addition to the death of the couple’s young daughter at the beginning, the evil forces in the film focus their supernatural crosshairs on the one girl with a Polio leg brace (Talitha Bateman).

None of this adds up to much besides a few arbitrary funhouse gotcha moments. And whatever logic there is in the film is muddled by a postscript that raises more questions than it answers. Then again, maybe that’s the point of this series. If you junk up the screen with enough narrative hooey, folks will keep coming back to find out what it’s all leading to and what it all means.

Here’s a thought: Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. C

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