All dolled up

“Why not a Teddy Ruxpin?”

“Why not a Teddy Ruxpin?”

Annabelle, the creepy doll from The Conjuring movies, gets her second standalone film with Annabelle: Creation, a silly movie that’s nevertheless enjoyable thanks to some deft direction and surprisingly competent acting.

The movie essentially holds together thanks to solid performances from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the latter being the same child actress who gave incredible work in the also surprisingly good prequel/sequel to a so-so movie, Ouija: Origin of Evil. Mind you, the film is full of good performances from the likes of Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephanie Sigman, but it’s Bateman and Wilson who get most of the credit for pulling this off in front of the camera.

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 happy nun Sister Charlotte (Sigman) at their side. They arrive at the home of Samuel Mullins (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 (Otto) is bedridden and ill, and he probably shouldn’t be bringing a bunch of orphans over to live in his haunted house. His attitude just isn’t right for orphan hosting.

Yes, the house is haunted with a spirit residing 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. Speaking of which, while Annabelle: Creation has some good scares, the preview scene from It that played before the flick was top-notch scary, and I can’t wait to see the whole movie. OK, I got off track a little bit.

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

While Wilson was so great in Ouija and is quite good here, it’s Bateman who 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. (Talitha’s younger brother, Martin Bateman, starred in that one.) Sandberg continues to show he’s good with a jolt scare; there are many moments in this movie when you expect 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, let’s-not-change-the-world-of-cinema-but-deliver-something-relatively-fun kind of film. Forgettable, but fun while you watch it.

These Annabelle movies, and the upcoming The Nun, have sprouted from The Conjuring franchise. Give New Line Cinema some credit for doing a horror franchise right—well, mostly right—as opposed to that nonsense Universal tried to kick off earlier in the summer with The Mummy.

These stories come together nicely and don’t feel forced and silly like, for instance, Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) inexplicably showing up as some sort of super monster detective. Sandberg finds satisfying ways, especially in the final scenes, to link The Conjuring universe together.

So, with a decent film in her pocket, Annabelle is giving Chucky a run for his money as best killer doll 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.