Friday, August 11, 2017

Annabelle: Creation Review

I think it's safe to say that we all rolled our eyes when it was announced that we were getting another "Annabelle" movie. I mean, "The Conjuring" movies are pretty entertaining horror movies and that Annabelle doll was extremely creepy when it showed up in the first "Conjuring." But when they did that "Annabelle" prequel movie, I don't think there was a single person on the planet that gave that movie a good review. OK, maybe that's a bit harsh. It did get all the way up to 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes out of 119 reviews, but no one that I talked to or critic that I like to follow said anything good about it. And even though hype and marketing helped it to open in the same range as both "Conjuring" movies, it crashed hard in ensuing weeks and barely managed to double its opening weekend total. I suppose I can't officially judge it because I didn't care to see it. Yes, I'm a horror fan, but there are so many bad horror films out and I choose to seek out the ones that do horror right while usually skipping the awful ones like "Annabelle." Which is why, in a surprising turn of events, I found myself in a theater watching "Annabelle: Creation." They got a good director which led to good early reviews, so I was intrigued to see if they could rein this back in.

The timeline for this movie is a bit interesting. As I mentioned before, "Annabelle" is a prequel to "The Conjuring." In "The Conjuring," you see the Annabelle doll in that one room where the Warrens have kept all of their possessed or supernatural objects that they have collected, so with the movie "Annabelle," they went back in time to tell that doll's story. With "Annabelle: Creation," instead of going forward in time a bit after the first "Annabelle," they again backtrack to tell the origins of the Annabelle doll. So yes, "Annabelle: Creation" is a prequel to a prequel of "The Conjuring." Simply put with this story, a man is happily married with a wife and a young daughter and is making a line of Annabelle dolls to sell to families. While I don't feel like getting into specifics with what exactly happens, even though you can see it coming from a mile away, bad stuff happens to this family and then we jump 12 years later where he is now a sad man with a lot of secrets, yet decides to bring in some foster girls who are hoping to be adopted. Or something like that. Point is, a Nun with a group of young girls of varying ages are now coming to live at this man's home and they quickly learn that there is a lot of strange things happening in this home centering around this doll.

The first thing I noticed about the events that were taking place was that there were a lot of supernatural things happening without much explanation. I understand that with many horror movies it's a bad idea to try to explain everything because often it ends up ruining the movie and mythology. But I looked at this movie in comparison to both "Conjuring" films, which had intriguing stories and mythologies that they told about certain haunting cases. Both films took the time to explain the backstory of their films and why everything was happening. "The Conjuring" especially had a very rich, detailed story with their haunting that the Warrens were solving. With "Annabelle: Creation," the daughter is haunting the house and that's pretty much it. There's no investigation or mystery to be solved. No Warrens around to help this girl or exercise her spirit. No real explanations to how or why the doll is moving around everywhere or the specific motivations behind why this girl is choosing to haunt these other girls using this doll. It's just simple scares without much story or depth behind it. A deceased young girl is haunting this house that all these girls have moved into and the girls have to figure out how to survive and what to do. That's "Annabelle: Creation" in a nutshell.

This disappointed me because for me it wasn't the terror of the "Conjuring" films that made me like them. It was the mythology and the investigation that I found fascinating, which was topped off by some legitimately terrifying sequences. "The Conjuring" even had a lot of religious undertones to it as the message of the film is that the devil exists and God exists and our destiny as human beings is to choose which one to follow with the Warrens representing the people who use the power of God to get rid of the power of the devil. In fact, this is a very common theme for many horror films like "The Exorcist" from 1973. While a very non-traditional way to share a spiritual message, it works and it adds a lot of depth to the movie instead of being a movie about simple scares. Even in the non-religious realm, there's a lot of other horror films that dive deep into various themes and real life situations people have to deal with, like "The Babadook," which deals with mental illness and depression in a rather powerful way. Other examples from this year include "Get Out," which is very much a social commentary on racism or "It Comes at Night," which deals with the fear of the unknown and paranoia. "Annabelle: Creation" has none of this. It's just there for scares.

But yet on a positive note, when it comes to the scares, "Annabelle: Creation" does it right. So many horror films these days are bogged down with jump scares and gore that really get old. They throw story and characters out the window because they think cramming as many jump scares into as possible, with many of them being annoying fake jump scares, are why people like horror films. Or they think that a bloody gory image is what's scary so they decide to make their movie huge gore-fests. These are the types of horror films I choose to avoid because I don't find them interesting. From what I've heard, "Annabelle" is this exact type of horror film. But "Annabelle: Creation" is not. They hired David F. Sandberg to direct, who is responsible for both the "Lights Out" short film from 2013 and the "Lights Out" feature-length film from last year. Even though "Lights Out" was another simple scare-fest without a ton of depth, it was a successfully creepy film. Sandberg implements a lot of those tactics he used in "Lights Out" for "Annabelle: Creation," meaning the movie is focused a lot more on creepy imagery, clever camera work, appropriate lighting and other stuff like that instead of blood, gore and endless amounts of jump scares to make this a good horror film.

Yes, jump scares exist in "Annabelle: Creation," but most of the jump scares in this movie were ones that gave you real reason to jump with a demon jumping out, the doll appearing or creepy eyes showing up in the dark. Real stuff to be scared about. Fake jump scares are kept to a minimum and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the movie's run time with how legitimately scary this house was with this doll. No, the movie didn't have any depth to it or much of a story to latch onto, but this was a well-made horror film in terms of the actual horror elements. There were also a lot of good characters in this movie with great acting. The main guy whose house we're in is played by Anthony LaPaglia and he does a great job of playing this very broken man. The Nun who is in charge of the girls is played by Stephanie Sigman and she does a great job of being loving and charismatic towards these girls. And our two main girls are played by Lulu Wilsons and Talitha Bateman, both of whom do a great job as these young girls being haunted by this doll. There are plenty of dumb decisions made by everyone, making this a very cliche horror film at times. But that was all in the writing as all the actors did their absolute best with the material they were given.

In short, if you are looking for a horror film with a ton of depth and a lot of interesting themes, "Annabelle: Creation" is not your film. It's short on story. There's a lot of supernatural events that are left unexplained. There's not very many strong character arcs. It doesn't dive deep into the mythology as it could've. It's not a paranormal investigation movie. The movie does a good job at connecting with both "The Conjuring" and "The Conjuring 2" while successfully setting up next year's "The Nun" (yes we're going for a "Conjuring" cinematic universe with these spin-offs). But it fails to hit the heights of "The Conjuring" and is more in line with "The Conjuring 2" for me, a movie that I felt had a lot less depth and purpose than its predecessor. That said, if you're looking for a horror movie that's simply entertaining, this will be your movie. After a bit of setup, there are a lot of scares in this movie and those scares are done properly as the movie focuses more on the creepy imagery while using good lighting, interesting camera work and effective music to deliver these scares instead of relying solely on jump scares and gory images to be scary. If you're not a horror fan, this won't convert you. But if you are a horror fan, there's a lot of fun to be had. I'm giving "Annabelle: Creation" a 7/10.

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