‘Annabelle: Creation’ Is a Thrilling Origin Story

Set several years before 2014’s “The Conjuring,” spinoff, “Annabelle: Creation” follows a group of orphan girls helmed by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) as they move into a dollmaker’s (Anthony LaPaglia) isolated farmhouse. The scares are strong, but the story is weak.

Among the orphans, Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Janice (Talitha Bateman) are apart from the rest of the girls living in the house. They are the outcasts but have each other to lean on for support and guidance. As far as ‘the creepy kids in a horror film’ archetype is concerned, the two young actresses hold their own and provide sharp and empathetic performances.

A few years before the events in “Creation,” the family lost their beloved daughter, Annabelle, in a tragic car accident. For the Mullins, hosting the girls seems like an attempt to fill a void in their family. But as some of the girls explore forbidden territory within the dilapidated farmhouse, an evil spirit awakes from the very crypt to which it was condemned.

What is immediately striking about the haunted doll origin story is director David F. Sandberg’s innate ability to masterfully frame compelling tension and scares. Sandberg, who splashed onto the scene last summer with his debut feature, “Lights Out,” carries out an effectively atmospheric and scary summer jolt. As a director, Sandberg displays much confidence and vastly hones in on his ability to craft horror.

On par with James Wan’s sharp directing within the cinematic universe’s mothership “Conjuring” films, “Annabelle: Creation” carefully shapes the scares around the possessed doll without ever crossing any comedic line. It would be very easy for an “Annabelle” film to sink into “Chucky” territory when it comes to an evil little doll running around a house and terrifying people. But Annabelle is quite the opposite. Sandberg uses bed sheets and other techniques to allow the doll to move from place to place without ever showing her little legs moving – which is why audiences can still take it seriously. Sandberg is sure to adhere to the prestige level of horror set out by Wan and followed in much of Warner Bros. recent genre installments.

While the scares are effectively aggressive, the pacing of the film along with a weak story remains among the biggest inconsistencies. It takes a while for the movie to get going. The set up is slow but very deserved. Still, it doesn’t substitute for the lack of excitement early on in the film.

It is not until midway through the 100-minute runtime, when Janice enters the preserved bedroom of the Mullins’ dead daughter that things kick off. However, once evil things start to get going – the film becomes a rollercoaster of scare sequences that will play strongly in a packed theater. Set up one after another – some scare sequences work better than others. The strongest sequence does not even involve the Annabelle doll herself, but a possessed scarecrow begging for a spin-off of its own.

As the story concludes, it ties nicely into the first “Annabelle” film – providing a backstory viewers won’t necessarily anticipate. In this case, execution balances out a flawed story. As the Annabelle doll has now become an icon for “The Conjuring” universe, as well as the contemporary horror genre itself, “Creation” is not the sharpest entry. But as the title suggests, it is just the beginning.

Annabelle: Creation” opens in theaters Aug. 11.