A doll’s house

Annabelle follow-up is creepy fun

Starring Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Stephanie Sigman and Anthony LaPaglia. Directed by David F. Sandberg. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

Annabelle, the creepy doll from The Conjuring franchise, gets her second standalone film, a silly movie that is nevertheless enjoyable thanks to some deft direction and surprisingly competent acting.

Annabelle: Creation essentially holds together thanks to solid performances from a good cast, especially Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the latter being the same child actress who did incredible work in the also surprisingly good prequel/sequel to a so-so movie, Ouija: Origin of Evil.

The film is set many years before the first Annabelle movie, with orphans Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) on their way to a new home, a group of other girls and a happy nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), at their side. They arrive at the home of Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), a doll maker who (we have learned in the film’s prologue) lost his daughter Bee in a tragic roadside accident. He’s miserable, his wife (Miranda Otto) is bedridden and ill, and he probably shouldn’t be bringing a bunch of kids into his haunted house. His head just isn’t right for orphan-hosting.

And yes, the house is haunted with a spirit that resides in that creepy doll we’ve all come to know and hate so damned much. (I hate creepy dolls almost as much as I hate creepy clowns.)

Janice had a bout with polio, which has left her with a leg brace and a basic inability to run away from demonic dolls. One thing leads to another, and characters start getting possessed and ripped to shreds by demon forces. (Damn those creepy dolls! Damn them to Hell!)

While Wilson was so great in Ouija and is quite good here, Bateman is the real scene-stealer this time out. She makes Janice genuine, and you pull for her to get out of the movie with most of herself intact. Wilson gets some sort of award for helping to make not one but two horror prequel/sequels very much worth watching after their mediocre/lousy predecessors.

Last year, director David F. Sandberg delivered a decent genre film with Lights Out, based on his terrifically scary short film, and he continues to show he’s good with a jolt scare; there are many moments in this movie where you are expecting one, and it still jolts you. He also makes good-looking movies. The authentic Southern Gothic look of this film lends to its credibility and keeps you in the story.

Does the film horrify or scare on the same level as Carpenter or vintage Romero? Absolutely not. Will it please those of us who like a capable horror thriller low on cheese? Yes. It’s a decent, late-summer, relatively fun kind of film. Forgettable, but fun while you watch it.

With these Annabelle movies and the upcoming The Nun all having sprouted from The Conjuring film series, give New Line Cinema some credit for doing a horror franchise (mostly) right. These stories are coming together nicely, and don’t feel forced and silly. And Sandberg finds satisfying ways, especially in the final scenes, to link the Conjuring universe together.

At this point, Annabelle is giving Chucky a run for his money as best killer doll that you shouldn’t have bought in the first place because it certainly looks like it intends to kill you.

I’m hoping for a Chucky vs. Annabelle in the future.