The Conjuring and Saw series have made director James Wan a cult horror geek hero. What’s billed as the “Conjuring universe” has also made him into a rich man, beloved of movie execs and, now, greenlighter of studio-mandated spin-offs.
The fourth and latest installment in what would become Ed and Lorraine Warren’s most prized demonic holy grail is a prequel to 2014’s Annabelle prequel to the Conjuring. Sadly, Wan is absent this time round with David F. Sandberg taking the directorial helm. Sadder still is that a lazy script, pacing as sticky as molasses, and zero supernatural events burden an otherwise potential creep-fest.
I mean, how can you go wrong with spooky, demonic children?
While the previous Annabelle was set in the 1960s, Annabelle: Creation goes back to the early 1950s, where we get to know the happy family of dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), whose downright horrid dolls are apparently very much in vogue with the kids of the community. His family, Esther (Miranda Otto) and Annabelle or Bee (Samara Lee), is living a comfy life somewhere in the rural Midwest until a tragedy puts an end to their happy days.
Fast forward to 1957 and a handful of orphaned girls from the now defunct St. Eustace's Girls' Home move into the Mullins’ house on Samuels invitation with their caretaker, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Among them is the cute and handicapped polio survivor Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her precociously curious best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson). Janice and Linda eventually discover that there is a malevolent secret living in the house with them. And, of course, that it wants to play.
The best part about Creation is how creative Sandberg uses the feint-feint-attack-escalate style of giving us the scares. Fans of the gulpi de gulat stratagem will find this one full of very nice creeps that bloom into scares, which then lead to full-bore terror.
Ghostly demonic kids can easily give moviegoers the heebie jeebies. That whole dynamic of their wanting to play as a ruse for terror is unsettling. Add high-pitched giggles and you're bound to be biting your nails. All of those and more suffuses the movie and, to be fair, there is some attempt at characterization of the orphan girls to get viewers to sympathize with their eventual harm and psychological torture at the hands of the evil doll.
What bogs down and is the downfall of Creation is how it’s too slow and too illogical even for your run-of-the-mill supernatural slasher. The film only really picks up a few minutes beyond the halfway mark and at more than 100 minutes, the bore factor really wears you down. You’ll need to make do with subtle creeps and you’d best leave your story expectations at the threshold of the doll-haunted house.
Here are a few of Annabelle’s elders and cousins in the Pinocchio-gone-bad department. Hopefully, revisiting these wicked works art can prep you for this generation's iconic, demonic doll.
1) Fats in Magic (1978)
Anthony Hopkins graced this one and fans of '80s horror will remember the ghastly face of the ventriloquist dummy Fats. Horror historians may as well point to fats as the granddaddy of the rest of today’s scary dolls.
2) Fletcher in Making Contact (1985)
This talking dummy gives his owner, Joey, a hard time growing into pre-adolescence just as he awakens to his psychic powers. To make matters worse, in the tradition of horror clusterfucks, Fletcher gets empowered by a demon, too.
3) Chucky in Child’s Play (1988)
If Fats started the scary doll movement, then Chucky made it his bitch. So much so that when you think killer doll, you think of the murderous and gleefully manic face of Chucky. The series still has life in it as 2013’s Curse of Chucky will attest, but the first Child’s Play kickstarted it all.
4) Jester, Shredder Khan, and Blade in Puppet Master (1989)
A riot of a movie where psychics find out they are being attacked and harassed by a former colleague using possessed puppets animated by an Egyptian spell.
5) Red Kimono Doll in Doll Master (Inhyeongsa) (2004)
For the love of his life, a dollmaker makes a mannequin in the image of the woman h adores. Sadly, said woman commits suicide and, in a snafu, dollmaker gets blamed for it. The events in Doll Master follow a magic realist logic, but the horror of the Doll in the Red Kimono is no less real or terrifying.
6) Jigsaw Doll in Saw (2004)
As one of James Wan’s earlier masterpieces, Saw has now become a creature of its own and the actor playing Jigsaw Killer has taken on a more active role and the doll version has been pushed to the background. Still, the doll with the rouge-cheeks in spirals is one of the more modern imaginings of the vicious Pinocchio.
7) Brahms in The Boy (2016)
This one stars The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan as Greta, who's just taken a job as an au pair in a huge mansion in the British countryside. The young, American nanny is shocked to discover that, upon arriving, the eight-year-old boy she is supposed to take care of is actually, dun dun dun dun, a doll. Greta’s new bosses, the Heelshires, want her to take care of the doll named Brahms just like she would a real boy because, well, the doll is a stand-in for their real son, also named Brahms, who was killed in a fire 20 years previous. Of course, Brahms turns out a tad bit more full of life than Greta previously thought and it doesn’t take long for all possessed hell to break loose.
Annabelle: Creation opens in cinemas nationwide on August 23
All Annabelle:Creation photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures