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Annabelle: Creation

By DAN LYBARGER Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published August 11, 2017 at 1:52 a.m.


Janice (Talitha Bateman) has to deal with a very creepy doll in the supernatural thriller Annabelle: Creation, a prequel to The Conjuring franchise.

Annabelle: Creation

68 Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Talitha Bateman, Alicia Vela-Bailey

Director: David F. Sandberg

Rating: R, for horror violence and terror

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

The makers of Annabelle: Creation have answered a question that really isn't on anyone's mind. Namely, "How did the creepy doll from The Conjuring come into being?"

After watching the film, it seems as if the producers and Warner Bros. stockholders were really asking, "How can we keep making money off The Conjuring without having to waste our time thinking of a decent story or images that don't come from better horror movies like The Exorcist?"

In her second movie on her own, Annabelle: Creation, "Annabelle" manages to imitate the pacing, the Catholic overtones and the tone of the first movie but replaces all the chills with unintentional laughter.

It might have helped if screenwriter Gary Dauberman (the mind who gave us the first installment) could create people who were as interesting as the demon-possessed doll. Worse, he and director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) commit the cardinal sin of making viewers wait for Annabelle's creepy gaze back at the camera.

There's little need for an origin story when you've already seen the final product. We already know she's a conduit for Satan and his legions, so Dauberman has an uphill climb to figure out how to get them inside the ceramic figurine. Like his protagonist Janice (Talitha Bateman), he seems to be taking an elevator to get around when he should be exerting himself to come up with something besides jump scares that don't really frighten.

At least Janice has an excuse for having to get assistance up and down stairs. She needs a crutch and a leg brace after contracting polio a few years before. She and a small group of other girls have moved in with a morose couple named Sam and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto). From the movie's opening frames, we learn that Sam makes limited-edition dolls that sell well enough for him and his wife to live in a home spacious enough to house orphans.

It doesn't take any imagination to figure out why Sam broods and Esther doesn't bother to greet the girls at all. The two lost their 7-year-old daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), a dozen years before.

Because the secret's not really a secret, there's no surprise when a Bible starts flipping its pages or when the figures in a photograph mysteriously appear or disappear. It helps that the film is set in the 1940s or '50s, but we in the present are still aware of PhotoShop. As Sister Charlotte, the nun supposedly running the orphanage, Stephanie Sigman seems curiously oblivious to all the visual clutter. It's as if she needs better corrective lenses instead of deeper faith.

The Conjuring's director James Wan is credited as a producer on this one, and it often seems as Annabelle: Creation is synched to Wan's stopwatch. Sandberg slavishly follows all of Wan's story beats and revelations, but is unable to come up with the shocks to go with them. The deafening score by Benjamin Wallfisch continually reminds viewers this is supposed to be a horror movie, but the rest of the film hasn't bothered to produce any images that match the roar of the music.

Actually, the look of the film is part of the problem. Unlike Sister Charlotte and the orphans, we figure out the place is trouble because the house has peeling paint on the outer walls. Perhaps Sam and Esther really want to stick it to the Church by offering an orphanage that seems so unwelcoming from the outside.

The orphan children in Dickens novels have more scenic places to live.

Perhaps if the place looked great from the outside, the objects that go bump in the night wouldn't seem so predictable later. It would have turned out better had Annabelle written the script.

MovieStyle on 08/11/2017

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