Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Run time: 109 minutes
The Lowdown: It didn’t take long for Hollywood to notice the enormous talent of director David F. Sandberg following his well-received 2016 debut, Lights Out, which literally succeeded in making viewers afraid of the dark again.
Whereas Lights Out was an expansion of an earlier short film that Sandberg had directed, which gave him a unique perspective for fleshing it out to feature-length, he faced a more significant challenge with Annabelle: Creation, the prequel sequel to the 2014 prequel Annabelle, which was itself a spinoff of James Wan’s 2013 The Conjuring.
And, as all of us know, Annabelle was a terrible movie.
To add additional cause for concern, the same writer, Gary Dauberman (who just penned the massive Stephen King adaptation It), returned to write Creation.
By its very title alone, you know what to expect: This is going to be the story of how the cursed doll Annabelle came to be, long before it ever wound up in the paranormal lockbox museum of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
In reality, Creation is about a lot more. Yes, there’s the backstory with a dollmaker (Anthony LaPaglia, treating the material with deadly seriousness) who fashions Annabelle as a gift for his daughter, who promptly is killed in a tragic traffic accident. Twelve years later, the dollmaker and his wife, who is disfigured and lurks like a mysterious specter along the fringes until the balls-out third act, open their home to a nun and her gaggle of displaced orphaned girls.
There’s just one rule in the dollmaker’s house – don’t go into his daughter’s bedroom, which he keeps locked.
Of course, one of the orphans is going to go into the room. There wouldn’t be a movie without that happening, right?
Thankfully, with Sandberg at the helm, Annabelle: Creation more than surpasses expectations. It literally shatters them.
In fact, for the first time in a long, long time, I was honestly afraid of a doll.
And make no mistake, Sandberg doesn’t shy away from showing you that this is a doll on the move.
In one of the film’s early, and most effective scenes, a young orphaned teenage girl sneaks into a bedroom and discovers Annabelle locked in a closet that’s been papered with passages from the Bible. The girl throws a sheet over the doll and closes the door. As she walks away from the closet, the door slowly creaks back open. Sandberg never adjusts his frame. You see the girl in the foreground and the sheet-covered doll in a chair in the background. Seconds pass. There’s no loud music to announce a coming scare, just ambient noise. The girl continues to scan the room as Sandberg’s camera faces her. Then, slowly, the shape under the sheet stands. And moves. Out of the closet, into the room. Until it’s standing right behind the girl.
Few directors working the horror genre today understand the power of such a sequence or trust the audience enough not to goose their growing terror with an unnecessary jump scare.
Annabelle: Creation is literally stuffed with at least a dozen such moments where you will be fighting the urge to look behind you and under the couch.
It’s seriously, unnervingly creepy, and so much better than anyone could have hoped.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Creepy paranormal scares.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Um, hello, Annabelle.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Evil in the Time of Heroes (Doppelganger Releasing, 88 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Giorgos Nousias’ Evil in the Time of Heroes wants to be the Greek equivalent of Dawn of the Dead, and while it has plenty of zombies, terrified survivors and, yes, heroes hoping to save the day, it’s honestly just not a very good entry in the already-stuffed canon of undead cinematic endeavors.
This is actually a sequel to Nousias’ own Evil from 2005, which depicted a zombie plague decimating Athens. Evil in the Time of Heroes provides an explanation for the undead uprising – a malevolent force from deep inside the Earth has returned to wipe out humanity, which is depicted as, you guessed it, a gurgling energy hurtling up from a very deep, dark hole.
There’s plenty of splatter, some surprisingly good practical makeup effects and Billy Zane (!) as a prophetic messenger, but it’s not enough to overcome some glaring miscues in the plot and a sluggish middle act.
The Old Dark House (Cohen Media Group, 72 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): There’s an old, ominous saying, ‘Those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.’
In the case of genre thrillers, more filmmakers should hope to be so doomed if they are unaware of mothballed gems like The Old Dark House.
Filmed in 1932 by director James Whale (Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein), The Old Dark House is the blueprint that scores of ‘a group of friends travel to a cabin in the woods’ films still follow to this day. Only, The Old Dark House is so much better.
Working with an all-star cast, which included Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mummy), Melvyn Douglas (Ghost Story, The Changeling) and Charles Laughton (Mutiny on the Bounty, Witness for the Prosecution), Whale’s film builds off what is now an overly familiar set-up: Two vehicles are traveling at night in terrible weather. They happen upon a large house with its lights on. The occupants all brave the rain to race up to the door, where they are greeted by a mute brute (Karloff), who eventually lets them inside.
What’s so eye-opening about Whale’s film is the subtle ways that he and screenwriter J.B. Priestley build each character. Most movies like this today approach character development like an impenetrable wall that can only be navigated through blunt force.
It’s also fascinating to study the way Whale frames his ensemble scenes, staging them like a play in a theater, always careful to let his camera eye capture the depth of the space, the darkened nooks where supporting players can enter unexpectedly and the tall staircase that you know at least one damsel in distress is going to descend.
George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn
Land of the Dead: Collector’s Edition
Dawn of the Dead: Collector’s Edition