Friday, 1 September 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Well, after the unprecedented success of Ouija: Origin Of Evil from last year, a film that I still absolutely adore, I figure it’s about time to put that hope for better cinema into practice. Between Origin Of Evil showing that it is still possible to make a prequel film that outshines the original and the general unpredictability surrounding a lot of this year’s releases, I have more than enough reason to believe that, in spite of how lame the original film was, this film could still turn out alright. So, let’s take a look at this latest horror film from the director of Lights Out… wow. I think I just set a world record for the fastest loss of optimism on that one, but let’s press on anyway. This is Annabelle: Creation.

The plot: Twelve years after the tragic death of their daughter, dollmaker Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) welcome six orphaned girls and their carer Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) into their home. However, as they get settled in, orphan Janice (Talitha Bateman) finds a strange doll hidden inside the house and before too long, strange and creepy things start to occur.

For as surprisingly recognizable as the bigger roles are, there’s nothing too special to be said about the acting here. LaPaglia and Otto do well at showing how Annabelle ended up affecting them in a number of ways, and while Otto doesn’t waste any of the precious bits of screen time she gets, LaPaglia is seriously trying to channel Liam Neeson in his line delivery, something that is never not distracting. Sigman as the Sister in charge of the orphans is pretty solid, Bateman does well with the possession angle she’s given, and Wilson (yes, that Lulu Wilson from Origin Of Evil; it’s like the film is actively trying to make me give it a chance at this point) fits in nicely after the narrative baton gets passed to her. Shame the other orphans aren’t this appealing, though, particularly Grace Fulton and Philippa Coulthard as Carol and Nancy respectively. Aside from being way too old for their roles as young orphans (it’s difficult even buying them as teenagers), they end up being two more instances of the catty Mean Girl that, likewise, feels out of place in a film like this, especially in this setting.

The original Annabelle’s attempt at horror was… muddled, to say the bloody least. I mean, the elevator scene that drags on for far too long in that movie is still one of the better pieces of unintentional comedy I’ve seen in a horror flick. Now, while this doesn’t contain anything nearly that ridiculous, it still carries over some of that film’s biggest problems. It operates rather strictly to its own Rule Of Three, in that it will frequently show the exact same image (usually of the titular doll) over and over again until the last iteration where something actually happens. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this; hell, being able to make inaction scary is a sign of a good filmmaker. However, this ends up going too far in that direction, to the point where the majority of what we see isn’t scary because no actual threat is posed. Sure, once we get to the final reel and everything hits the fan, the tension gets paid off, but unfortunately most of it ends up feeling like the audience is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. You might be able to hear me groan as you read that last sentence, since one of the scares in the film involves literally waiting for a second shoe to drop to the ground. Granted, it’s not nearly as heavy in terms of pointless jump scares that plagued a lot of the original, but what’s left over isn’t enough to engage.

What doesn’t help the film’s wonky attempt to frighten is that, at its core, this isn’t a story meant for a feature-length release. The narrative involving Annabelle, her parents, and what they did after she died is a decent bit of horror setup, but the film never really does anything with it. Instead, likely because the filmmakers know that they don’t have a lot to extrapolate that tidbit into something meatier, we spend most of the film with that main conceit being hinted at over and over again without doing anything with it. Most of what we get in relation to this is the orphans and occasionally the Sister wandering around the house, essentially looking for plot and largely coming out empty-handed. This ends up getting worse once it settles in that, beneath the surface, there is something more that could be utilized. Taking notions of faith and sin that usually come packaged with stories about demonic possession and giving them a good few tweaks, we get hints of the kind of layering that served this film’s older brother The Conjuring so well. But that’s only in passing, as the film seems far more interested in what is basically ‘meme horror’. It keeps trying to show the same images and ideas throughout the film, with barely any of them even amounting to anything, and thinking that that alone is enough. As much as I find the idea of ‘meme horror’ as shown here to be somewhat interesting, that doesn’t automatically make it worth sitting through… not yet, at least.

All in all, while a mild improvement over the first Annabelle, and most certainly an easier sit than the finish of cat’s piss that is Lights Out, this still isn’t all that good. The acting is fine, some of the scares are at least serviceable and there’s traces of bigger themes in certain scenes, but overall, it’s pretty lacklustre and unfortunately dull horror flick. It’s worse than A Dog’s Purpose, which is still more troubling as a feature but it at least still engaged on those terms; this film didn’t get nearly as spirited a reaction from me in any regard. However, since this doesn’t fill me with any sense of disappointment (if anything, it gives some hope that David F. Sandberg will eventually redeem himself for Lights Out at some point), it ranks higher than The House, a film made by people who I know can do a lot better.

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