When I saw Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) this past October, I was pleasantly surprised by a really well-crafted and endearing prequel to Ouija (2014), a trash-heap that one would’ve expected to leave any dreams of a franchise dead in the water. After seeing the first trailer for Annabelle: Creation (2017), I couldn’t help but feel hopeful that it would follow this lead, having heard only terrible things about Annabelle (2014). In no way did it look amazing, but the premise seemed interesting enough and the visuals looked promising. So I suffered through the original, hit up a matinee showing, and I was treated to pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. It starts off pretty slow, but once Creation hits its stride, it truly delivers until the end. There was a point maybe half an hour in when I realized how bored I was – I rolled my eyes at yet another door-opening-by-itself gimmick – but this leads into a genuinely terrifying follow-up that immediately reinvested me in the film.
In 1957 (12 years before Annabelle would terrorize the Gordons), Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony Lapaglia, Miranda Otto) take in a group of six orphaned girls, attempting to fill the void left by their daughter who died in a tragic car accident 12 years prior. This concept of a recurring evil with dormant and active periods immediately piqued my interest, reminding me of Stephen King’s IT, in which the evil resurfaces every 27 years. The Mullins are a mysterious couple; Samuel constantly brooding and acting secretive, and Esther remaining confined to her bedroom, hidden behind a curtain. Soon after settling into their new home, the girls start to experience strange occurrences. Janice (Talitha Bateman), disabled by polio, is specifically targeted by the evil within the house, or rather the doll. This is one of the reasons Creation excels over its predecessor: everything that happens doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around the doll. As is stated in the film, “The doll is merely a conduit,” and isn’t shoved down your throat the way it is in the 2014 original.
Creation is so much better than Annabelle in literally every aspect, but the most important (to me, at least) is the quality of its scares. The latter relies on cheap jump scares and for the most part simply does not deliver, while the former’s scare tactics change throughout the film to accommodate the tone. Pretty much the entire first act houses all of its fear and information in the background, out of focus, and/or among the shadows. This pairs perfectly with the fact that Janice is the only person who’s aware of these goings-on at this point, and she’s not even sure she believes herself. Later on, when everybody’s encountered the presence and the fear is instilled throughout the group, the scares move more into the foreground. Although there are one or two jump scares, a lot of Creation’s scares unfold eerily and slowly, in direct contrast to most modern horror films. It may well have just been the frigid theater I was sitting in, but I actually got chills more than once. One of the film’s scarier scenes, and a turning point in the story, is set in broad daylight, similarly to the beach scene in It Follows (2014). This is an ambitious task for any horror movie, but it’s expertly executed in both instances.
The consistently beautiful cinematography works throughout the film to heighten the presence of terror, both through contrast and detail. That’s not to say that it’s a masterpiece by any standard, but there are more than a handful of truly striking shots. The time period alone sets the film up to be ripe for more interesting visuals than those set in present day, and it’s used to its full potential. The Mullins’ ornately decorated, dust-covered country home acts as a beautiful backdrop, and the 50’s clothing and technology add an endearing style. My favorite instance of this is a scene in which Linda (Lulu Wilson) sits facing out her bedroom door, shooting a retractable rubber ball out of her metal toy gun into the dark abyss of the hallway over and over again. The darkness is constantly used throughout the film to display a pair of monstrous eyes or even just to contrast the brightness of the daytime.
All else aside, I think what really makes this film so endearing and helps retain the audience’s interest is the talented cast, especially given that every important character is a woman. Mr. Mullins is essentially the only male character, and pretty much only serves as a plot device, devoid of any real character development. Coincidentally, I was familiar with Lulu Wilson from her strong performance as Doris in Ouija: Origin of Evil, and I was equally as impressed by her role in Creation. Talitha Bateman and Stephanie Sigman (Sister Charlotte) also deliver all-star performances, and their relationships with one another make it easier to relate and empathize with them. I also thought the group dynamic made the story more interesting, specifically because every character was eventually affected by the presence, whereas it’s usually just one character trying to convince the rest that it’s real. The group dynamic also comes into play towards the end of the final act, when they get split up and are preyed upon in an almost slasher-esque style which I found to be a really cool change of pace.
Despite all the praise I’ve given it, I’m not trying to say this film is without its flaws. The story is nothing super special, but it’s interesting enough to keep you invested. The effects can be cheesy at times, especially the physical incarnation of the evil, which is just such a standard shadow-lurking, jet-black, yellow-eyed creature that seems to make an appearance in so many modern horror movies (Annabelle, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Insidious, Incarnate). But overall, I just find it really cool that a lot of modern horror franchises are going the route of period piece prequels to breathe new life into doomed franchises, rather than wasting their time on monotonous sequels. And if films like Annabelle: Creation and Ouija: Origin of Evil are indicators of what’s to come for the horror genre, I’m all for it.
Not to mention that this movie ends with a seamless transition into Annabelle, and even takes a page out of Friday the 13th Part 2’s book, simply cutting to footage from the previous film.