The power of the horror genre at the moment is pretty astounding when you think about it – low cost of productions, strong possibility of high-profit margins, almost critic proof despite the raging battle between studios and Rotten Tomatoes over recent months – so it really is no surprise that sequels are a healthy business even if the film that preceded it wasn’t much cop in the first place.
That statement and much of the above can be said of New Line and Warner Bros The Conjuring franchise which has spawned a sequel (and another lined-up) for the original film as well as three spin-offs: 2014’s Annabelle, its follow-up and the upcoming The Nun. The first Annabelle was slated by critics but from its tiny $6.5million budget the film earned over $256.8million at the global box office and the “universe” was a dead cert – cue Annabelle: Creation but a strange thing has happened that is a very rare phenomena in Hollywood – a sequel/prequel/spin-off that is better (far, far better) than the original in which it is based.
The new installment begins just over a decade before the events that transpired in the first as a local dollmaker (LaPaglia) and his wife (Otto) are living with their young daughter Bee (Lee) when she is killed in a tragic accident. Jump forward 12 years and the couple has opened up their home to a small group of orphaned girls, accompanied by Sister Charlotte (Sigman), as they wait to be rehomed. The house is their’s to use as they see fit except for Bee’s old room which is out of bounds – the temptation to peek in is too much for house-bound polio-sufferer Janice (Bateman) and she unwittingly unleashes a nasty presence that has been waiting to escape.
David F. Sandberg, who made the hugely impressive Lights Out a couple of years ago, builds on the promise of that film with Creation and delivers a taut, genuinely creepy film that gets under your skin from the off and rarely lets up. Like a classic haunted house tale, Annabelle is more about the atmosphere and unnerving aspects of its surroundings than just teasing you before the typical array of gore and jump scares kick in – but Sandberg’s measured, fluid camera work add more layers than you’d imagine and it’s unpredictable nature fuel the tension to within an inch of its (and our) live.
There are scares, of course, but they never feel cheap or underwhelming with each one cranking up the stakes and goosebumps as it moves from chilling set-piece to the next as you find yourself either clutching the chair handles or hiding behind your jumper as many have done thus far with this one, and with two brilliant turns from young stars Bateman and Lulu Wilson as they do battle with the demonic entities stalking them all, there’s much to enjoy (and hide from) with this one.
It doesn’t quite maintain the exceptional levels it sets for itself in the latter stages of the film and ends up all becoming a little generic but it cannot sour the great work done elsewhere. More 1970’s psychological thriller than true, gory fodder Annabelle: Creation continues the fine rehabilitation of the horror/thriller genre that so many have set the standard for. A terrific surprise.