In Annabelle: Creation, several years after the tragic death of their young daughter, a doll maker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shut-down orphanage into their home. They soon become the target of the doll maker's possessed creation, Annabelle.
"What is that?"
Who cares? Run!"
Movie universes are all the rage right now, but they're tricky beasts. There's always a base film, the one that started it all to kick the franchise into gear. Then you have the sequel, which is already tricky business because it has to meet audience expectations while also pushing things forward. Then there are prequels which come with their own massive amounts of baggage because they're the first real attempt to provide tangents to this universe that could operate on their own while still being apart of the overall universe. Then you have the prequels to the prequels, which statistically speaking, should be complete and utter cash in garbage that exists simply to mine cash from the audiences' wallets. Amazingly enough, Annabelle: Creation scares its way through all of the expected obstacles a prequel to a prequel of The Conjuring could face.
Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and six of by the good graces of God have been provided shelter after their orphanage was closed. The Mullins, Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) have opened up their large desert home to these wayward young women hoping their presence will bring a little life and joy into their dreary lives. Two of the young orphans Linda (Lulu Wilson) and the polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Eliana Bateman) share a sisterly bond and pledge to never go to a family without each other. When dark secrets about the death of the Mullins' daughter Annabelle are accidentally unlocked by poor Janice, it will take all the faith in Linda, Sister Charlotte, and the rest of the orphaned girls have in God in order to survive.
If you break down the run of films that have come out over the past decade or so that have been spurred along to simply create an expanded universe to milk a property for all its worth, there's a lot going against Annabelle: Creation. As the origin story of Annabelle which in of itself was a prequel to The Conjuring, this film could easily have been a complete hot mess of a horror franchise overextending itself. Thankfully, under the watchful eye of Lights Out director David F. Sandberg with some clever plotting by writer Gary Dauberman, Annabelle: Creation provides enough jumps and scares to justify its existence while also tieing things nicely into Annabelle and the rest of the ever-expanding Conjuring universe.
I'm a big fan of "bump in the night" scares. They're what messed me up as a little kid wandering around the spacious house I grew up in. Hear an odd creak on the loose floorboard, hear the cat jump off a table, turn your head and see a creepy shape looming out of your mother's sewing room - it's all a recipe for some pretty solid night terrors. Thankfully my room was right across from the bathroom so I could sprint from one door to the next! The similar horror tricks Sandberg employed in Lights Out with the use of light and shadows, object placement, and the film's effective sound design is the classic horror tricks that make the scares of this film work. The horror and the frights aren't what you see and hear but what you imagine you're going to see around that dark corner that makes it work.
That said, Annabelle: Creation falls into the similar trap that I felt The Conjuring 2 got caught in with some pretty one dimensional characters. The setup for why these young girls and their caretaker are staying with a willing but still oddly secretive family works, but at the same time, most of these characters hardly work as individuals. Anthony LaPaglia is great as the wary father-figure who wants to move on with his life after a tragic accident. Lulu Wilson's Linda plays the perfect concerned friend to Talitha Eliana Bateman's Janice who endures torment after torment at the hands of our titular demon creature and creepy as all get-out doll. But really, aside from those three principal players, everyone else serves as placeholders. You never really get to know Stephanie Sigman's Sister Charlotte and the motivation behind her faith and devotion to these children. The rest of the orphan girls may as well not even have names for how nondescript they are.
At the end of the day though, my issues with the characters and script are just nitpicking really. Even being aware of these issues, you should still be able to enjoy this fright flick without any cares. The jumps and creepy bits begin quick and don't really let up. Just when you think you're more or less going to be given a moment to breathe, the film finds a creatively creepy way to suck the air out of the room and force you to hold your breath again. There are a few signature moments that I'd love to mention here, but I worry I'd spoil the anticipation of the moment. Suffice to say, on a cold dark October night, Annabelle: Creation is ghoulishly good entertainment and proves this extended Conjuring universe has some worthwhile frights to offer.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Annabelle: Creation arrives in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD set courtesy of Warner Bros. No physical 4K Ultra HD option is available at this time (more on that in a bit). Pressed onto a BD-50 disc and housed in an eco-friendly two-disc Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork, the disc loads to trailers for Warner Brothers releases including It and the upcoming Justice League before arriving at a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Annabelle: Creation scares its way to Blu-ray with a beautifully moody and atmospheric 2.40:1 1080p transfer. I love a horror movie that understands the importance of what to show and what to leave to the imagination. this film is bathed in creepy shadows and they look wonderful here. There is a great sense of depth as there's just enough shadow separation going on to make you feel like that little speck of evil could be hiding anywhere in any of the rooms. Details are spot on allowing you to appreciate fine facial features, the clothing, but especially the film's terrific production design work. Colors are also equally impressive as the Mullins' home and surrounding desert property favor the warm browns and yellow earth tones. When the lights go out, it's all about cold and cool blues, grays, and deep inky shadows to really up the horror anti. All around for a standard Blu-ray presentation, this is pretty damn good - my wish is this had been given a good and proper 4K Ultra HD presentation.
As great as the video transfer is for Annabelle: Creation, it's this film's Dolby Atmos mix that makes it. Similarly to the notion of it's not what you see it's what you don't see that is scary, this audio mix plays up deafening silence and then unleashes its demonic fury. If you hate jump scares, you're in for a bumpy ride as pretty much the first half is a near constant - but damn effective - parade of jump scares. As far as the basics go, dialogue is clean and clear throughout without any issues. There is a terrific sense of atmosphere and dimension to nearly every scene. The mix is also free of any unwanted anomalies. But let's step back a second and talk about that atmosphere again - because it's really a big part of why this movie works in the first place. The setting being an old spacious home allows for plenty of overhead activity. Surrounds are active in very subtle ways with a tree branch scratching a window there, a creaking floorboard over there, a thumping footstep out there. But again, it's all used minimally. To this track's credit, there are several moments where there seems to be little to no sound at all allowing for the scares and the jumps to be that much more effective. I'll tell ya, the LFE tones of those big bumps is a real delight.
Annabelle: Creation arrives with a pretty decent assortment of bonus features. Some of it is the standard tried and true EPK leftovers, but the David F. Sandberg Audio Commentary is a great listen. On top of that, Sandberg's Directing Annabelle: Creation is a boon for bonus features fans.
Audio Commentary Featuring director David F. Sandberg. This is a great listen as Sandberg offers up a lot of detail about shooting a big production on a small budget and having to make day-to-day creative decisions to make the most of things. Frustrating for 4K UHD fans, Sandberg covers a lot of details about color timing for HDR and Dolby Vision like this was supposed to be something we'd hear on a 4K disc. It's interesting material but frustrating we don't get to see what he's talking about.
Deleted Scenes Featurette (HD 12:04) Sandberg provides a commentary over the material as he discusses why certain scenes had to go. This includes some material concerning Sister Charlotte and her motivation for being with the children, which would have been nice to keep these scenes as they help define her character. It's understandable why some of this was cut, but I do wish that a number of these scenes remained to help make the film a bit more nuanced.
Directing Annabelle: Creation (42:21) This is an impressive behind the scenes video with Sandberg wanting to fill the gap of what it looks like to direct a movie. He offers up a lot of information and also has a hell of a great sense of humor so it's informative as well as entertaining.
The Conjuring Universe (HD 4:51) This is your standard tried and true EPK bonus feature.
Horror Shorts: Attic Panic (HD 3:10
Horror Shorts: Coffer (HD 3:09)
Despite my misgivings about some thin characters, Annabelle: Creation is a solid piece of horror filmmaking. Lights Out director Davis F. Sandberg delivers a solid prequel that on paper should have been a disaster. It works as a standalone horror film that also happens to fit nicely into an ever-expanding universe alongside The Conjuring and its other siblings. It's got more than enough frights and scares to justify its existence as a prequel to a prequel. Warner Brothers delivers the goods with this Blu-ray release. This disc features a terrific video transfer with a creepy, moody, and atmospheric Dolby Atmos audio track. Stack on a bunch of great bonus features that are actually worth watching and listening to, Annabelle: Creation is an easy one to highly recommend for this cold Halloween season. The only way this release could have been made better is with a 4K UHD Blu-ray option.