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"ANNABELLE: CREATION"
(2017) (Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A nun and six orphans move into the remote house of a husband and wife, who lost their child years earlier and are now hiding demonic forces.
PLOT:
Samuel Mullins (ANTHONY LaPAGLIA) is a dollmaker who lives in a big, old rural house with his wife, Esther (MIRANDA OTTO), and young daughter, Bee (SAMARA LEE), in the 1940s. One afternoon, the family has to deal with a flat tire on the way home from church. Bee wanders out into the road and is struck dead by a speeding car.

The story picks up 12 years later with the Mullins opening their home up to Sister Charlotte (STEPHANIE SIGMAN) and six recently displaced orphans. There is polio-stricken Janice (TALITHA BATEMAN), who is best friends with good-hearted Linda (LULU WILSON). There are teenagers Carol (GRACE FULTON) and Nancy (PHILIPPA COULTHARD), who are snarky to Janice and Linda and favor two other young orphans (TAYLER BUCK and LOU LOU SAFRAN) to stay with them in their room and relegate the other two down the hall and closer to a mysterious room whose door is always locked.

Behind that door, there is a doll named Annabelle Samuel made years earlier that may or may not harbor the spirit of the Mullins' dead daughter. Soon, the girls realize that a demonic force is at work in both the doll and the house, in general. Samuel obviously knows more than he is telling, and Mrs. Mullins is confined to her bed and rarely seen. It's not long before one of the orphans is also possessed and all of their lives are placed in mortal jeopardy.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
OK, I'm putting it out there now. If Pixar, Disney, and Hollywood insist on going ahead with a "Toy Story 4," it HAS to be a mash-up of that franchise ... and the "Annabelle" movies! I'm tired of this creepy Annabelle doll terrorizing good people and surviving to the next movie where it will turn up in a display case somewhere or a yard sale or another child's playroom. Woody, Buzz, and Jesse are sentient dolls, too. Turn them loose on this thing! Get those little green Army guys, too, and Bullseye and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. They're resourceful. They have experience in this sort of thing. It could be the "Aliens" of "Toy Story" movies. This time it's ... WAR!!!

Ahem.

But until that day, we have flicks like this prequel, "Annabelle: Creation," in which the titular toy runs wild. "Creation" is a darn scary entry in this series, folks, and it's really quite relentless once it gets past its slow-burn first half. Seriously, for the last 45 minutes or so of this flick, it's one big scare sequence after another.

Kind of a cross between "Annie" and "Child's Play," the film is set in the late 1950s and centers on a half-dozen orphans who have nowhere to go after the Catholic Church closes their orphanage. Drawing on its long history of protecting children from abuse and peril, the Church sends the six girls and the good-hearted Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) to pretty much the creepiest, most remote house they can find owned by Samuel and Esther Mullin (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto). There are three bedrooms upstairs. One has four beds, which the two teen orphans and two youngest girls take. The second has bunk beds, which tween Linda (Lulu Wilson) and her polio-stricken best friend Janice (Talitha Bateman) take. The third bedroom? It has the malevolent spirit of the Mullins' long-dead daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), and is basically a portal to Hell.

To his credit, Samuel Mullin tells Janice and the others not to go into the room ever and that the door stays locked. And had they obeyed, this would have been a nice movie about young orphans learning reading, writing, and arithmetic and the Mullins learning to love and live again. But Janice goes into the room one dark and stormy night. And, by the next morning, the Mullins' property values have pretty much plummeted.

I kid, because ... this movie DID scare me pretty good. Creepy dolls, even creepier little girls, creaky floorboards, shadowy figures. It's all here, dear readers. Some good, old-school scares throughout for the most part. Director David F. Sandberg knows how to frame a shot so that the target or victim is always in the foreground, but there's just enough screen space over his/her shoulder to see something bad happening or about to happen in the not-too-distant background.

Sandberg uses every square inch of the Mullins' house to maximum effect, too. My favorite bit is where little Linda retreats into her room and to her top bunk, knowing an evil entity is out in the hallway. From under the covers, she hears creepy fast footsteps run from the hallway, into the bedroom, and then we see from her perspective the bunk bed jiggle ever so slightly. And then ... total quiet. Whatever has entered the room ... IS IN THE BOTTOM BUNK!!!

And I like that even though the audience does its usual, "Don't go in there!" and "Leave! Get outta the house!" there is usually a good reason for why a character goes into that creepy room. There's a good reason why they all can't just leave. These are little girls in the 1950s who've never seen or heard of a "slasher film." You tell a little kid don't go into that room, he or she is ... gonna go into that room! Sister Charlotte and the kids have to stay in the house and make the best of their situation, because they literally have nowhere else to go.

Fans of this series, which also include the two "Conjuring" movies, will love some of the subtle and not-so-subtle connective tissue here and between the four total films now. This includes an epilog in "Creation" that takes the audience right to a key event in the first "Annabelle" movie released in 2014 and set a number of years after this one. There's nothing left to say except ... "Annabelle: Creation" delivers. It toys with its audience and has a marvelously cruel sense of play. I give it a very solid 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed August 8, 2017 / Posted August 11, 2017


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