The Conjuring was the film that made me take a renewed interest in current horror. I can’t hide from my past as a highly pretentious Classic Horror Snob(tm), completely anti-anything made after ~1980, but, while classic horror is still the nearest and dearest to my heart, I can say that in recent years I’ve repented, seen the light, and opened my mind to the world of 21st Century horror. The Conjuring played a big part in that, after I (somewhat begrudgingly) agreed to see it at the theater with a friend and actually fucking loved it. So, naturally, I took a special interest in the franchise it spawned.
Unfortunately, none of the following films have lived up to the first. Annabelle was a complete snooze fest. The Conjuring 2 was good, but it wasn’t great. I had higher hopes for Annabelle: Creation, which looked incredibly promising from the first teaser, and it seemed that the creative team behind it might have learned from the mistakes of the first installment of the spin-off series and crafted a deserving origin story for Annabelle.
That turned out to be only about half true. Annabelle: Creation is certainly an improvement on the underwhelming first movie, but it still suffers from unoriginal storytelling and predictability. There are some effective scares, but many of them are, ultimately, fillers and there is very little substance to back up what otherwise might have made a superbly creepy film.
(*Note: Since this is the “newest” movie I’ve ever posted about, now would probably be a good time to mention that this isn’t going to be spoiler free.)
The film opens briefly on a happy family in 1943. That happiness is, of course, short-lived — we’ve all seen the previews, we know those smiles are about to ripped right off their faces. Annabelle the doll was crafted by the loving hands of Samuel Mullins, a dollmaker and father who made her as the namesake of his beloved daughter. We get to watch Sam, his wife Esther, and their darling little “Bee” (Annabelle) be adorable for about five minutes before “Bee” is tragically run down by a speeding motorist.
Fast forward twelve years. The once happy Mullins home has stood presumably empty until the couple decided to open their doors to six young girls, who were left homeless by the closing of their orphanage, and Sister Charlotte, their caretaker. Nancy and Carol are the oldest, somewhere in their mid-teens, followed by the younger Kate and Tierney, and the youngest two, Janice, who has lost the use of one of her legs to polio, and her best friend Linda. The closeness of the two youngest girls, as well as their isolation from the rest of the group, is established early. Janice’s disability causes her to be treated differently and often left out, and while Linda is determined to stay by her side, they both clearly yearn for acceptance from the older girls.
For the Mullins’ part, Mrs. Mullins is unseen, confined to her room, unable to walk, the victim of some terrible accident. Mr. Mullins is cordial enough but hardly the warm father figure he once was. The girls have the run of the house, but Janice, of course, is drawn to the one room they are kept out of: Annabelle’s room, locked, and “stays that way,” as Mr. Mullins sourly informs her. If he honestly thought that would quell rather than enhance the curiosity of a young girl, he was sadly mistaken.
While everyone else sleeps, Janice is lured into a game of hide and seek which leads her right to Annabelle’s door, which, to her surprise, isn’t locked at all. Through her exploration she unlocks a closet in which she finds Annabelle — the doll, not the daughter — sitting serenely in a chair as if she’s been waiting for her. In one of the most effective scenes of the entire film, Janice drapes the doll in a sheet to avoid those awful eyes, but as soon as she turns her back the cloaked figure stands. Through the window, Janice sees, and is seen by, Mr. Mullins. Knowing she’s been caught, Janice turns to run back to her own room, only to be met with the sheet-covered form standing right behind her. Naturally, when the sheet falls, there’s nothing underneath. Thoroughly frightened, Janice makes a break for it.
The next day, she confesses to Sister Charlotte. She tries to explain her strange experiences, but Sister Charlotte is primarily concerned with Janice deliberately disobeying Mr. Mullins, reminding her young charge that if he were to kick them out, they have nowhere else to go.
A string of weird happenings ensues. Linda, playing a one-sided game of hide and seek with the older girls, hides in a secret room under the stairs and comes face to face with Annabelle-the-doll, which is pulled by unseen forces into the darkness. While Nancy and Carol share spooky stories in the middle of the night, they are attacked by what they believe to be Mrs. Mullins, ominously ringing the bell she uses to summon her husband, despite the fact that they’ve been told she cannot walk. The figure disappears quickly and is chocked up to the girls’ imaginations, but they remain shaken from then on.
Janice again makes her way to Annabelle’s room. You can hardly blame her for her boundless curiosity, even if the smartest decision she could have made was to never venture beyond that door in the first place. But then, we wouldn’t have a movie, so onward she goes into certain danger. This time she finds Annabelle-the-doll sitting on the bed, along with a diary with the entry: “Dear Diary, today I came home.”
Then she sees the ghost of Annabelle-the-daughter, who implores her sadly to “help me.” When Janice ask her what she needs, Annabelle’s sweet face transforms into something monstrous, her voice now demonic when she answers, “your soul.” Janice is then pursued by what is very clearly not Annabelle but a terrible, dark force. It scoops her up and drops her harshly onto the ground floor.
She is left bound to a wheelchair and it’s uncertain if she will ever walk again. Unable to go upstairs, even with the aid of the elevator chair Mr. Mullins originally installed for his wife, a bed is made for Janice downstairs on the sofa, where she will sleep alone, which seems pretty cold given her recent trauma and her established loneliness. She confides in Sister Charlotte that there is an evil presence in the house that is preying on her because she is “the weakest.” Sister Charlotte assures her that evil preys on the “weak of faith, not the weak of flesh,” in which case Janice is one of the strongest of them all.
Despite her encouraging words, the narrative continues to prove otherwise. The exacerbation of Janice’s existing disability and her further limited mobility is directly responsible for her subsequent possession by Annabelle — that is, the “evil presence” in Annabelle’s form. Left alone outside, Janice’s wheelchair is hijacked by the demonic force and she is deposited in Mullins’ abandoned workshop, where she is left to try and crawl to safety but ultimately possessed by “Annabelle,” in the same manner that Bathsheba possessed Carolyn in The Conjuring. Since this is the last we ever see of the compassionate, curious Janice herself, it would seem that yes, her disability is exactly what lead her to lose her soul and her self to the demon. This deliberate decision on behalf of the film’s creative team smacks of ableism, and if Janice at least came out the other side, traumatized surely but with her soul intact, it might not be so bad, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
When Sister Charlotte and the girls find Janice, she is sitting calmly in here wheelchair. Linda immediately notices the change in her friend. Since Janice has been moved downstairs, Linda has had her own share of terrifying experiences. She confides in Mr. Mullins that something sinister has affected Janice and that she believes it’s all because of the doll they found in the locked room. Visibly upset, Mr. Mullins warns Linda not to go near the doll or his daughter’s room. Inside, he finds the said doll sitting at the head of the dining table. Janice, not Janice at all, walks in — with no longer even the need for her brace — singing the long-dead Annabelle’s signature song (“You Are My Sunshine”). She then transforms into a demonic figure and kills Mr. Mullins.
That night, Linda decides to put a stop to it all. She sneaks Annabelle-the-doll away from the sleeping Janice and makes her way outside to dispose of the doll. Sister Charlotte spies her from her window and goes after her. Linda tells her that the doll is evil and has done something to Janice before dropping it into the well. A pair of hands shoot out of the well and attempt to drag Linda down herself, but Sister Charlotte pulls her to safety and they close and lock the well. The evil spirit fights to get out and the pair run back to the house. Linda runs to tell Janice that she stopped the doll’s reign of terror, only to pull back the covers and find the doll itself in Janice’s place.
Sister Charlotte confronts Mrs. Mullins and demands answers. In flashbacks, Mrs. Mullins fills us in on what transpired after her daughter’s untimely death.
Consumed by grief, the Mullins’ prayed and promised their devotion to “whatever power” would allow them to see their little girl again. Be careful what you wish for, folks. People in these movies always think they’re ready to make a deal with the devil only to find out they’re biting off way more than they can chew. Soon, what they believed was their Annabelle began making contact. It started off small, but soon “Annabelle” wanted permission to move her spirit into the doll her father made in her image so that she could be with them forever. The presence grew stronger and soon the Mullins’ were able to see their daughter. They were passing glimpses, but it comforted the grieving parents to feel their daughter’s presence in their home again.
But of course, they soon realized this wasn’t their beloved Annabelle at all. Armed with a Bible and crucifix, apparently intent on expelling whatever spirit they had allowed into their house, Mrs. Mullins finds Annabelle having a seemingly innocent tea party with Annabelle-the-doll. Her daughter’s figure soon twists into a sinister form and attacks Esther, leaving her paralyzed and her face burned, with one eye gouged out.
In order save her soul, she and her husband reached out to the local church. They locked Annabelle-the-doll in a closet in their daughter’s room, covered the walls with pages of the Bible so that the “word of God” would trap the demon inside. The closet and the rest of their house was blessed and all was quiet for twelve years. The Mullins’ considered housing the orphans to be penance for their dark dealings, but — surprise, surprise — all they did was give the demon a crop of young, innocent young souls ripe for the picking.
The film climaxes with a series of only vaguely suspenseful scenes in which Sister Charlotte and the girls are attacked by a possessed Janice, Linda becomes trapped in the house and tries to fight off the monster in her friend’s body, and Mrs. Mullins is mutilated and crucified. The evil is seemingly defeated when Sister Charlotte, asking Janice to forgive her, drapes a rosary around the possessed girl’s neck and shoves her and Annabelle-the-doll back in the closet, barring the door from the outside. After what amounts to essentially a poltergeist temper tantrum, the house is finally still.
When the police arrive, Janice is nowhere to be found. Annabelle-the-doll is found in the closet, sitting peacefully as ever, but Janice appears to have shed her rosary and tunneled her way out, vanishing into the night. The house is blessed once again and the priest joking asks which of the girls wants the doll. It was just conduit for the evil, he says, which is now gone. “Now the doll is just a doll.” Sure Jan. The last we see of the doll, it is loaded into the back of a police car.
Sister Charlotte and the remaining five girls in her care set off the from the Mullins’ home into an uncertain future.
Some time later, we see a couple entering an orphanage in Santa Monica to meet their newly adopted daughter. It’s Janice, still possessed, smiling sweetly; she gives her name as Annabelle. Her new parents, Mr. and Mrs. Higgins, are immediately taken with her and present her with a Raggedy Ann doll — a nice nod to the real life Annabelle.
Fast forward another twelve years. Mr. and Mrs. Higgins are sleeping in their home when they hear a noise. In comes their daughter Annabelle, now an adult and a member of a Satanic cult, who murders her mother, leading us right into the events of the first Annabelle film. I can appreciate that the film comes full circle and solidifies its place in the chronological events of the franchise, even if I didn’t enjoy the first film.
All in all, there are some definitely some scary moments in Annabelle: Creation. Dolls are naturally creepy and the Annabelle doll is terrifying, which is utilized to it’s fullest effect in some very haunting sequences. Unfortunately, you can’t build a movie on that alone, and the story that is built around the doll isn’t strong enough to make the film an overall success. This seems to be a trend in doll-centric horror movies. The inherent creepiness of dolls — with their glossy eyes and placid faces and porcelain limbs just waiting to get up and move of their own accord and fucking murder you — is admittedly well used in both Annabelle films, as well as in films like The Boy looking to capitalize on the former’s success. But none of these films has a particularly strong or satisfying story to go along with it. The Boy has more originality than either Annabelle film, but the twist ending is still disappointing. I don’t know what it is that’s keeping these movies from living up to their potential, but we should stop and figure it out before anyone is allowed to make any more.
Viewers can see Annabelle: Creation‘s “jump scares” coming a mile away. You can pretty much pinpoint at which exact moment something is going to jump out from the darkness, or reach out and grab one of the unsuspecting girls. And since we have already been told by two previous films that Annabelle-the-doll is inhabited by a demonic presence, the revelation that the Mullins’ unwittingly invited a demon into their daughter’s doll is a surprise to no one. The film might have gone over better had it come first, before Annabelle, because otherwise there’s nothing new or fresh here. The fifteen minute intro to Annabelle at the beginning of The Conjuring is still better, scarier, more effective than either of her stand-alone films.
The one thing that I appreciate the most about the film is the lead up to The Nun. This film, with its overtly religious setting, has the potential to be the best and most terrifying of the franchise. Valak scared the living shit out of me in The Conjuring 2 and I’m trying not to let the disappointment of the Annabelle spin-offs dim my excitement. The creators of these films are at the very least doing a stand-up job of linking them to each other and putting them neatly in their places in the series. With Sister Charlotte’s story about her time spent in a convent in Romania, where The Nun is set, along with the spooky post-credits scene with Valak, building on the foundation set by The Conjuring 2, James Wan and Co. are rather brilliantly interconnecting each installment. And despite the let-down of each one that followed The Conjuring, I still hold out hope that they’ve got another great film or two left in them.