When it comes to movies defined by the tenants of the horror genre a financial or critical success, sequels are inevitable. When those movies continue to be successful the series of movies are promoted to the Holy Grail of filmmakers, the franchise. This form of extending a story and further developing a character is frequently an excuse for continuing the downward spiral past mediocrity as all aspects of production degrade. It is reassuring when the rare alignment of factors occur that produces a continuingly entertaining franchise. A substantial factor in the outcome concerns the standards established by the original entry. In the case of most slasher flicks the bar is set very low, a movie merely must spill a significant quality of stage blood and bovine intestines. It also helps if an actress with a congenital absence of modesty they are guaranteed to secure the all-important teenage male demographic. With the film under consideration here, ‘Annabelle: Creation,' the filmmakers were targeting a different portion of the horror fanbase, those interested in the more difficult artform, the psychological horror thriller.
This movie is the fourth installment of the ‘The Conjuring Saga.' Starting in 2013 with ‘The Conjuring,' based on the real-life paranormal problems infected upon a married couple, Roger and Carolyn Perron, who just moved into an old farmhouse in Rhode Island. This introduced the audience to the married paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. Moving through the second and third ‘Conjuring’ movies, the one thread uniting the franchise was the evil machinations of a possessed doll named Annabelle. This movie, as so clearly noted by the title, is the long-awaited origin story of that demonic doll. Most horror movies are defined by the tangible focus of evil used to drive the story and generate the fear. The difference is the archetypical slasher movie achieves this through special effects generated visceral shocks and revolution gore. With a psychologically oriented story such as this entire franchise, the goal is the eminently more difficult sense of terror resulting from infusing the dark, primitive portion of our minds with stimuli crafted to undermine the modern mind’s ability to reason and control a response to the most primordial response in our psychological foundation, fight or flight. You watch a slasher flick but in a good psychological horror film, you are immersed in the experience.
Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), was an artisan whose chosen means of expression was the meticulous crafting of exquisite porcelain dolls. Each one was unique and a work of fine art. While World War II waged overseas Samuel and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto), were raising their young daughter Annabelle (Samara Lee), gifting her with one of the best examples of Samuel’s craftsmanship. The child was only seven years old when she was killed by a passing car. An unknown presence appears that the grieving couple believes to be the spirit of their daughter. They agree to allow it to enter the doll but soon they realize the terrible mistake they have made. The spirit is an ancient evil, a demon in search of a human host. To safely contain the demon, they bring the doll to their daughter’s room. There they have prepared a prison to contain the entity. They completely covered the walls and door of the closet with pages of the Bible and locked the creature inside. To seal the demon in place, they enlist the assistance of the clergy they blessed the closet and the house. Those wards held for twenty years until 1955 the Mullins allowed the church to quarter some orphans and the nun in charge of them to stay with them.
Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) had been assigned to an orphanage recently closed by the church. She took six of the girls to stay with her on the Mullin’s farm. Mrs. Mullins is confined to her bed, one half of her face concealed behind a porcelain mask. Mr. Mullins gave the young girls freedom to move around the house and grounds, but there were some immutable rules, no one was to enter his daughter’s locked room. No one at all is to open the closet under any circumstances. If this is an absolute requirement as a house rule, it might not have been such a great idea to invite tween and teen girls into your home. While young boys typically manifest youthful curiosity, we are in an enlightened age where young girls can be just as curious and adventurous. The orphan undertaking that critical position in the roster of characters is a crippled young girl, Janice (Talitha Bateman). A victim of polio Janice is confined to a wheelchair which precludes her from most opportunities to play with the others. Mostly left to her own devices, Janice explores her new home stumbling upon the forbidden room and closet. Finding the key allows her to discover the long I imprisoned doll and inadvertently frees the demo. It possesses her, but a disabled child is not her idea of a human host. Acting through Janice the demon begins to torment the other girls paying attention to Janice’s best friend, Linda (Lulu Wilson).
A vitally crucial aspect of creating a successful psychological horror story is to ensure it is ground is sufficient reality too strongly resonate with the audience. It is only natural for people to require a degree of familiarity to bond with the characters and become emotionally invested in the imminent danger. With a story as dependent on the supernatural, this can be exceedingly difficult. The first film in the series was based, however loosely, on actual events. To attain the same level of involvement with the viewer the director, David F. Sandberg, and franchise lead screenwriter, David F. Sandberg, decided on a stable method to achieve this requirement. They infused the film with elements of various easily recognizable tropes. One of the most evident is to present the older girls as the prototypical mean girl clique. They exclude Janice exasperating her inherent feeling of estrangement. This in turn increases her susceptibility to the intrusion of the demonic entity. Most people have personally experienced rejected by a popular cadre readily identifying with the psychological disposition of the young protagonist.
The intrinsic problem with any prequel is obviously the fact the fans are aware of the ultimate disposition of the characters and situations. This was handled with an admirable amount of skill although a few of the individual aspects of the production could have been integrated better. Typical of an origin story the pacing is noticeably slower in response to the necessity of a heavy exposition plot. This is overcome within the second act allowing for a tightly crafted third act, the conclusion of this film leads directly into what is planned to be the next installment. This is expected to delve into the truth behind the ever-present sinister figure of a supernatural nun. It is rare for anticipation for a franchise to remain so intense at this point, but this franchise remains one of the exceptions worth continuing.