Opening with Anthony LaPaglia crafting the titular creepy doll (and de facto face of the Conjuring universe), this prequel conjures up unwelcome connotations of direct-to-video installments of the Puppet Master franchise. And that is before you have to sit through nearly two hours (possibly more, if you count trailers) of overly complicated plotting, very few scares and the LaPag. (I have nothing against LaPaglia; what I have is an opinion of him forged in the cinema of the early 1990s and “Without a Trace.”)
Apparently, Annabelle was the first of a series of lifelike (i.e. creepy) dolls handcrafted by Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia), who lives in the middle of nowhere with his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), and their young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee). Several years after Bee’s unexpected death, Samuel and Esther decide to house a handful of orphaned girls (including Ouija 2’s Lulu Wilson). Eventually, Annabelle is freed, and whatever evil spirit inhabiting the doll wreaks murderous, soul-stealing havoc on the girls, their guardian nun and the Mullinses.
Lights Out director David F. Sandberg has less luck devising scary scenarios in his sophomore feature; he even seemingly rips a bit of late terror from his surprise hit. Annabelle: Creation suffers from more plot than scares, and the plot lacks even the remotest originality. The movie’s best ideas hint at classics (The Haunting, Burnt Offerings), and the house is an incredible set. Somehow, though, the scares never set. It seems an inanimate toy is harder to build a horror movie around than you might think. An overlong final act struggles to install more mobile antagonists. Maybe that’s why they made sure to go ahead and promote the scary nun movie. After all, she can walk (it’s more of a float) on her own.
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