There are a legion of fans who adored the movie Annabelle, the film that describes the early days of that dastardly devilish doll from The Conjuring. The first thing you should know from our Annabelle: Creation review, is it is leagues better than the previous installment. Turns out Annabelle was not an origins story, but Annabelle: Creation is, as if you could not tell from the film’s moniker.

We meet the vintage doll when she is not-so-vintage. The viewer is given a front row seat to her, well, creation by a California doll maker, Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia). He and his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), are living quite a comfortable life and treasuring every blissful day with their little girl, Bee (Samara Lee). Tragedy strikes and the adoring parents are left devastated with an inconsolable loss. Fast forward a dozen or so years, and the couple has graciously invited a nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), and six orphan girls of varying ages to move in with them and make a home.

Of course, there are a few rules. One involves Mrs. Mullins and never bothering her in her room where she has not moved from in years and the other centers on leaving their little girl’s room sit idle, as it has since she perished. Her door is locked and shall remain so for eternity, as far as the Mullins are concerned. Wouldn’t have a horror movie if these rules weren’t broken, the most serious of which is when Janice (Talitha Bateman) cannot sleep one night and discovers the little girl’s room door ajar. Hey, why not go in… right?!

If the room isn’t spooky enough, it has a locked closet that miraculously Janice finds a key to (in the most haunted of doll houses no less). It, of course, opens a closet that creeks violently and is also adorned with pages from the bible glued to its inside. There is nothing creepy about that, so let’s go further into the closet and discover Annabelle, the doll of our nightmares. And so begins our slow, but steady, journey into an absolute hell for our nun and her charges. Heck, it might not work out so well for the Mullins, either.

Gary Dauberman penned the script, as he did for the previous installment. But the helming duties have been handed from John R. Leonetti to David F. Sandberg. The new director’s command of the horror genre, particularly pacing, is extraordinary. He also does something exquisite and makes this an audience participatory experience. Prepare for fellow viewers to be shouting at the screen, an array of collective gasps and an army of jump out of your seat moments shared by all in the theater. That is largely due to the beats that Sanberg has orchestrated with Annabelle: Creation. It is a slow burn that methodically pulls you in to its terror, only to let you breathe for a moment that is fleeting because a scare is right around the corner. Over the course of the film, he masterfully manages the measured escalating excitement so that we reach elevated benchmarks for scares as the minutes tick by and as we inch towards the film’s conclusion.

The issues with Annabelle: Creation is in many ways, are problems with the horror milieu. Audiences have seen so much, particularly fans of this genre. For example, there are the scares that are not really scares (i.e. a father tickling his child when she — and we — think something much more sinister is coming around the corner). There are the characters doing things that no human being of any sound mind would do, yet if they don’t do it, we don’t have a horror movie. There just has to be new ways to spook us than having individuals enter rooms where a killer doll was last seen wandering into!

Also, this one last night in a haunted house thing… can we all just agree to completely abandon this plot device? After something utterly horrific happens and all now seems to be OK, nobody should ever say, “Everyone, that’s it! We’re leaving in the morning.” Excuse me? No, we’re leaving now! The audience knows this night is not going to end well for anyone except the spirits/demons/evil-doers who are extolling their scares.

Those criticisms aside (which are more largely meant for the genre as a whole), Annabelle: Creation still manages to pack a pretty decent horror punch. That steady march towards terror is immensely entertaining. The cast sells it, particularly a little actress who we first were haunted by in Ouija: Origin of Evil, Lulu Wilson. She is pivotal to our terror experience and once again, shows that (scared) wonderful things can come in the smallest of packages.

Speaking of small scarers, since we first met her in The Conjuring, that little demon doll has attracted an enormous following and discovering how she came to be such a bombastic conduit for evil is a pretty enjoyable time at the cinemas.

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