We were first introduced to possessed doll Annabelle in 2013’s “The Conjuring,” where she was freaky, but inconsequential. She was spun off into her own prequel movie in 2014, which I didn’t see, but I’m told couldn’t scare a cockroach away from a spotlight. Now she’s getting another movie, a prequel to the 2014 one, which means the series is essentially going in reverse. We’re being told the story of how the doll first came to be possessed, as if it’s not obvious she’s evil based solely on her unsettling appearance.
The doll was created by toymaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) right before his daughter Annabelle was killed in a car accident. Twelve years later, Mullins and his wife (Miranda Otto) welcome six orphan girls and their overseer Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) into their home. The clearly-sketchy couple are allowed the responsibility because they are apparently the only ones willing to take in a group that includes Janice (Talitha Bateman), a girl stricken with polio. Janice isn’t the only one with an affliction. Two of the “girls” must have some sort of rapid-aging condition where they’re somehow teenagers in need of adult supervision even though they look like they’re in their 20’s.
Janice and her healthier friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) waste no time getting to snooping. There’s a door that Mr. Mullins says is off-limits. It might be a single-digit number of hours before Janice is lured into it by anonymous beckoning. The doll is in the room, creeping up the place. She tries to lock it away, but it doesn’t want to stay locked away. Maybe it’s an accident that the locked door keeps opening. Maybe it’s a prank by a jokester who thinks there’s nothing funnier than doors being opened. Or maybe there’s something more sinister at work. Yeah, it’s the third one.
A conspiracy unravels involving shady deals with otherworldly beings, violent happenings in the past, and demonic possession. Gone is sweet little Mullins daughter Annabelle and in her place is a demonic force that surprisingly prefers to be called Annabelle. But that doesn’t mean that Annabelle is the only unfriendly spirit in play. Sister Charlotte may have come in contact with a certain ghastly nun who wants a piece of the action.
If you’ve seen any of the “Conjuring” movies, you’ll know what to expect from this installment. Lots of stuff goes bump in the night; sometimes it’s a false alarm, other times it’s worth being scared. But honestly, the movie can’t come up with much that’s scarier than just the look of the doll. The violence is once again rather tame, these movies have to stretch to get an R rating. The only memorable scare involves a clichéd horror movie answer to an innocent question. At my screening, I jokingly called out the answer before the movie seriously went that route. I’ll admit I jumped even though I totally called it.
Starting this week, I’m doing away with my five-star rating system and switching to letter grades. This is to finally put an end to complaints along the lines of “Two and a Half Stars is 50% of Five Stars, and most schools consider 50% a failing grade, so are you saying the movie gets an F?” No, contrary to popular belief, I am not out to flunk everything. “Annabelle: Creation” gets a C. If you’re in the mood for a haunted house movie, you’ll have fun jumping every two minutes. If you’re not in the mood for a haunted house movie, you’re not likely to be won over by this collection of cheap jump scares. For me, as much as jump-scare movies have a place in my heart as a guilty pleasure, I’ve seen the two “Conjuring” movies and “Annabelle: Creation” is mostly more of the same.
“Annabelle: Creation” is rated R for horror violence and terror. Its running time is 109 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.