“Annabelle: Creation” is a relentlessly scary movie. The film creates a sustained sense of dread that, once it starts, does not let up for almost all of its 109 minutes of running time. It’s a near-perfect horror film and the best one I’ve seen in years.
In this prequel to both “Annabelle” and “The Conjuring,” Esther (Miranda Otto) and Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) Mullins are a middle-aged couple grieving the loss of their young daughter, Annabelle. In order to fill their empty house, the Mullinses invite Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and her charges, six teen and pre-teen orphan girls, to live with them. But the presence of the girls has awakened an evil presence in the house, something that lives in a doll once owned by Annabelle.
In “Annabelle: Creation”, director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”) and producers James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”) and Peter Safran (“Annabelle,” “The Belko Experiment”) display a keen understanding of horror that most strive for but few achieve. The pacing is deliberate but never slow. The set design is incredibly well-conceived; the Mullinses house has the sort of architectural features that are perfectly integrated into the plot. Set pieces are created and props are placed that you just know will figure into the story later, and they do. The sound design integrates creaks, scrapes, and distant tinkling of bells, framed against the deafening silence of a big, isolated country house to ramp up the dread. And director Sandberg once again (as he did in “Lights Out”) makes expert use of light and dark — and more particularly, the terrifying dark that is just outside of that ring of light.
I didn’t care much for the first “Annabelle” and I was underwhelmed by “The Conjuring 2.” Unlike those two films, “Annabelle: Creation” is not a shameless cash-grab in an attempt to wring every possible cent from the new horror franchise. It is a movie that displays the sort of deft talent and fluency in the language of horror that make this movie perfect both for casual thrill-seekers and true fans of the genre.