There are movies that break new ground and movies that just know what to do with the ground that has been broken. Director David F. Sandberg’s “Annabelle: Creation” leans heavy toward the second category.
“Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to 2014’s “Annabelle,” which told the story of a demon attached to a really ugly doll. It opens with a brief prologue where a happy young doll maker named Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), lose their young daughter Bee (Samara Lee) in a car accident on the way home from church.
Fast-forward 12 years, and Samuel and Esther, still in mourning, have offered to let a group of orphaned young girls stay in their large, creepy rural home. In the interim, some kind of mysterious accident has left Esther bedridden, so only Samuel emerges to welcome Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and her girls.
We watch the story from the perspective of the girls, and primarily through Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson), who are isolated from the other girls because polio has compromised Janice’s mobility. Samuel has generously opened his home to the girls, but he comes across as tense and foreboding, sternly warning them to stay out of the locked bedroom that used to belong to Bee.
So, naturally, that same night Janice enters the room and frees a demon attached to an absurdly hideous-looking doll in a white dress — Annabelle!
From here, the plot unfolds like countless before it: Strange things start happening — mostly at night — people make increasingly poor decisions and, as the threat gets more and more dangerous, the principal characters slowly piece together the story of what is causing all the ruckus.
Strangely, even though “Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel, the origin story content — the where-did-Annabelle-come-from bit that you’d think would be the basis for the movie — is relegated to a late flashback. Then again, asking too many questions in horror movies like this feels beside the point.
From the comically evil-looking demon doll that no clear-thinking parent or kid would touch with a 10-foot pole, to the textbook jump scares, to the explain-everything expository flashback just before the third act, there’s little if anything in “Annabelle: Creation” that horror fans won’t have seen before, many, many times over. Horror movies often depend on their characters doing dumb things in order to drive their plots, and the cast of “Annabelle: Creation” goes out of their way to do some spectacularly dumb things.
But even if you can accuse Sandberg’s film of being unoriginal and formulaic, at the same time you have to admire how well the director pulls the tension strings along the way, and really has a good time scaring his audience.
For all its faults — Sandburg could drop at least 15 minutes off his 109-minute running time — “Annabelle: Creation” is a pretty fun horror movie to watch in a group (and comparably soft for its R-rating). Most of the time, you can see the scares coming a mile away, but Sandberg is still able to build suspense in a way that creates the kind of frights that have you laughing at the same time.
“Annabelle: Creation” isn’t an original horror movie, but in its best moments, it is a very fun one. Even if you forget the whole thing by the next day, sometimes that’s enough.
“Annabelle: Creation” is rated R for horror violence and terror; running time: 109 minutes.