Film doesn't elevate genre, but delivers lots of scares in the dark
It's been a banner few years for indie horror, with some of the best movies of any genre falling under that umbrella. That's unusual.
Movies like “Get Out,” “It Follows” and “The Babadook” have managed to construct stories that are both functionally scary — it is still horror, after all — while also maintaining a level of commentary that speaks to deeper themes.
Mainstream horror has also undergone a bit of a transformation. (Can we all be thankful that “torture porn” has become passe, at least outside of a niche audience?) It's moved more into the supernatural, with a focus on well-worn but effective haunted house tricks.
It's even slowly developed its own superhero-style “universe” with the crossover films and sequels surrounding 2014's “The Conjuring,” a fictionalization of a real-life case explored by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The latest in these is “Annabelle: Creation,” which positions itself as the backstory for a movie that was a spinoff based on a cursed doll featured briefly in “The Conjuring.”
We meet doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), who lives with his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), and their beautiful daughter. Sam finishes his meticulous work on a doll fans will both recognize and be immediately creeped out by.
Flash forward to 12 years after the tragic death of their daughter, the Mullins open their home to a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and a group of orphan girls. Polio-stricken and wearing a leg brace, Janice (Talitha Bateman) seems most unsure about this move, but she has the support of her best friend, Linda (Lulu Wilson).
As tends to happen in old, creepy farmhouses, creepy things start to happen.
“Annabelle: Creation” favors slow-building tension over the rollercoaster ride, but that doesn't mean it's not effective and scary for an audience that wants to get together in a room and all jump at the same time.
It's elevated by having David F. Sandberg in the director's chair, making the follow-up to his truly excellent debut, “Lights Out.”
He again works magic with light and depth of focus, leaving the audience tensely staring into the darkness in growing dread of what might live there. That's when “Annabelle: Creation” works, and it works well.
Unlike the trio of horror flicks I mentioned above, the story doesn't do as much to add to the scares. The orphans add the vulnerability of children in peril, but there's also an odd “Mean Girls” dynamic among them that misses the mark.
But if you want scares? You got 'em.