Despite flaws, ‘Annabelle: Creation’ delivers horror-movie magic

    The latest entry in James Wan’s horror universe, “Annabelle: Creation,” brought to us by director David F. Sandberg, is a supremely entertaining horror thrill-fest. The film concerns a group of young girls and a nun who transfer their closing orphanage to the private farmhouse of a former doll-maker and his bedridden wife. No sooner do the young women arrive at the home than do strange, supernatural — dare I say, evil — events begin to unfold, risking the lives of all the innocent souls within the house. Oh, and there happens to be an oversized, disturbing-looking demonic doll at the center of it all.

    If your only major concern with horror movies is whether or not they are scary, this one passes the test. If I were to time each scare in this 109-minute-long film, I would wager not more than two or three minutes passes between each one. “Creation” is unnerving — from the setting of an old-fashioned farmhouse and its many dark rooms, to the impressive way most of the child actresses, led by Lulu Wilson and Talitha Bateman, seem genuinely frightened, inviting viewers to share in their fear. The creep factor is delivered via a grab-bag full of old-school horror suspense and new-school visual trickery. This film surely packs the scares missing from its predecessor, “Annabelle” (2014), and the restraint missing from Sandberg’s directorial debut, “Lights Out” (2016). With “Annabelle: Creation,” we are treated to spooky fun, but Sandberg is quite careful to hold out on showing any monstrous figures too early, so as to preserve some mystery. This wise decision results in a feeling of dread and suspense sure to please anyone who needs just a little something witchy to tide them over until Halloween.

    However, if you go beneath the surface and start poking around for weaknesses, you will find them here. There are a few convenient setups — things completely unnecessary given the story but which serve as cheap avenues to guaranteed scares. The real issue is that these setups make no sense with the rest of the story and don’t serve to motivate the plot or characters in any capacity. For example, a solid five minutes of screen time is dedicated to a scare, telegraphed towards the beginning of the film, involving a conveniently placed scarecrow. After the actual fright takes place, the scarecrow fails to come up again in any way after these few minutes. In the moment, it’s easy to ignore the issue of whether or not this has anything to do with the rest of the film because the scares are so effective. However, when you reflect on your viewing experience later, you’ll probably think, And what was the point of ____ ? What did that have to do with anything? This proves to be quite frustrating because the visuals are interesting and eerie enough without needing to shoehorn in clichés and nonsense. Each time this is done, the audience benefits from the extra jump-scares, but at the expense of watering down an otherwise decently, deservedly tense film.

    The other issue to be found with “Annabelle: Creation” is that it all but abandons the original story in question, right up until the final 15 minutes or so. The film begins by showing us the doll’s physical creation, which bears no influence on its evil qualities, and doesn’t explain how the doll came to be dangerous until the very end (in an all-too-familiar scene, no less). Instead of building and explaining the creation narrative, most of the running time is spent following little girls as they’re being scared and startled (admittedly, that’s the fun part). When it finally is explained away exactly how Annabelle, the doll as we know it, came to be, it is done so through unconvincing, stiff and poorly articulated dialogue. At this point, the creation story is clumsily and half-heartedly related to the film we’ve been watching and then mashed together with the ending. The ending itself feels tacked on, a forgotten idea to rehash a story we’ve already seen in the first film and a self-indulgent reminder to the audience that they are viewing part of a successful franchise, not simply a stand-alone film. The result is that the last quarter of the film feels rushed, misplaced and plain sloppy compared to the first three quarters.

    Despite both of these detractions, Sandberg’s final product not only somehow works but is tremendously fun. At its core, the film is a simple, old-fashioned horror film meant to be enjoyed with a crowd. Your mind won’t be blown, and there are several of the same scares we’ve seen utilized in many a Wan-iverse film past. However, if you are able to suspend your disbelief and go into the film willing to follow the narrative wherever it may lead, “Annabelle: Creation” is a spine-tingler you’ll enjoy.

    Dax Doyle, 25, is a horror-movie aficionado and aspiring film critic living and working in southern New Jersey. Follow him on twitter @vapidyouth.