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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

Annabelle: Creation movie review: common domestic demon doll

Annabelle Creation red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
All familiar funhouse spooks telegraphed a mile out, with no spiritual or psychological weight, but with some very young girls terrorized for your entertainment.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of studio horror films
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Forget possessed dolls and demons that WANT YOUR SOUL. The most unbelievable thing about Annabelle: Creation is that it hopes we will accept that its titular doll, that ghoul-faced monstrosity with the sunken eyes and sallow skin, was actually something lovingly created by a kindly dollmaker in the image of his beloved and beautiful little daughter, and — even more implausible still — that his customers positively clamored to take these dolls home and bestow them upon impressionable children.

I am not buying that at all.

If there’s one thing Satan can’t resist, it’s a doll tea party with devil’s food cake.

If there’s one thing Satan can’t resist, it’s a doll tea party with devil’s food cake.tweet

With this sorry excuse for a horror movie, all creaking floors and faces in shadows and very little else,tweet we are now two steps removed from 2013’s The Conjuring, wherein we first met Annabelle the scary doll as part of the creepy museum of eldritch objects curated by “demonologists” Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens are real people — by all indications, real con artists — and that first movie was ostensibly a true story based on their work. (They are best known for — or perhaps “infamous for” is more accurate — their “inquiry” into the so-called Amityville Horror haunting.) But even therein, the supposedly haunted Annabelle doll is nothing like the actual one the Warrens have “paranormally investigated” (*snort*). The *cough* real *cough* Annabelle doll is a Raggedy Ann soft toy. The Annabelle of 2014’s Annabelle and now of Creation is a wooden doll clothed in a fine dress, and with a face that looks like what would happen to an American Girl doll after three years of meth abuse.

Anyway, Annabelle jumped back to 1969 to tells us how the doll ended up with the Warrens, a story that bears absolutely no resemblance to what the Warrens have said actually happened with the Raggedy Ann. And now Creation jumps further back, to the late 1940s (and then ahead again to the early 1960s; I have narrative whiplash), to tell us how to the doll came to be, and came to be possessed, and all pretense to plausibility, never mind factuality, has gone out the window, across the field, and down the inevitable creepy old well that will play a part in the third act.

All pretense to plausibility, never mind factuality — haunted Annabelle is supposedly a real doll, after all — has gone out the window.
tweet

In Creation’s brief opener, set in the 1940s, we meet that kindly dollmaker, Mr. Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia [Holding the Man, Happy Feet Two]; no, I too am unable to fathom what he is doing heretweet), and his wife, sweet Mrs. Mullins (Miranda Otto: I, Frankenstein, War of the Worlds), only to witness their little girl, the clear inspiration for the doll, killed in a terrible accident. A dozen years later, he is now stooped over with sadness, and she is now mysteriously reclusive, never leaving her bedroom. Grief and something, you know, haunted hang over their sprawling, spooky house in the remote deserty hills of southern California. Naturally, this seems like a great environment into which to invite a passel of little-girl orphans and their nun guardian (Stephanie Sigman: Spectre, Miss Bala) to come stay when their orphanage shuts down. Even though there is a locked room into which the girls must never venture, Mr. Mullins orders. (The doll is in there, it is no spoiler to reveal.) Even though there is a haunted dumbwaiter. Even though there is a creepy barn with a creepy scarecrow within. Even though there is the aforementioned creepy well. (“This place is so creepy,” one of the girls notes.) Even though–

The doll-gallows motif for the orphans’ bedroom was perhaps ill-advised.

The doll-gallows motif for the orphans’ bedroom was perhaps ill-advised.tweet

Well. Suffice to say that the story requires that the Mullinses — allegedly very nice churchgoing people — knowingly put vulnerable children in danger, and yet this is not meant to sour us on them, but actually to make us feel sorry for them. This is a story in which the Church obviously accepts and takes active steps against demonic presences and yet allows children in its charge to be placed in not just mortal but immortal danger (for their very souls, etc). A subplot about the Church’s recklessness when it comes to vulnerable children could have been, alas, very pointed and pertinent, but the script — by Gary Dauberman, who also wrote Annabelle — doesn’t even seem to realize such potential is there. That could have been authentically chilling, a horror akin to that which actual people have actually perpetrated.

As it is, though, Annabelle: Creation has no resonance, no spiritual or psychological weight,tweet no heft of any kind. As the demonic doll harasses the orphans, director David F. Sandberg gives us a familiar collection of funhouse spooks that are telegraphed a mile out. All the ooky shadows and stuff jumping out are so obvious and rote that you have forgotten the boos even before they strike. The creaking — so much creaking! — becomes an inadvertent regular punchline to an ongoing unfunny joke.

The movie’s twist on the genre-ritual terrorization of female characters? Call it pedo-fear-lia.
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The only remotely disturbing thing about this movie is its twist on the genre-ritual terrorization of female characters. Typically that means nubile young women — that is, adults — whose fear is presented in a sexualized way. But the haunting here focuses on prepubescent best friends Linda (Lulu Wilson: Deliver Us from Evil) and Janice (Talitha Bateman, who looks like a very young Jennifer Lawrence). These young actors are very good at being very scared, which only doubles down on how Sandberg plays their sustained fear as titillating. (That’s sort of the entire point of horror, isn’t it? To be stimulating, right? But this is most definitely a movie meant to thrill adults, not one offering safe scares for kids.) The terrorized girls — pretty little blond girls — here are so young that it feels like a kind of pedophilia. Pedo-fear-lia? Perhaps this wasn’t intentional, but that doesn’t make it any less icky.


red light 1 star

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Annabelle: Creation (2017) | directed by David F. Sandberg
US/Can release: Aug 11 2017
UK/Ire release: Aug 11 2017

MPAA: rated R for horror violence and terror
BBFC: rated 15 (strong horror, violence, gory images)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Colby King

    This is by far the dumbest review for a movie I have ever read with my own eyes.

  • Alex Karpinski

    Wow. You are quite in fact dumb as a bucket of rocks.

  • Jambalaya

    Have you ever read a dumb review with someone else’s eyes?

  • bronxbee

    support your claim with some sort of… oh, i don’t know… FACTS? or at least, explanation.

  • bronxbee

    and you need to be clear. are you replying to Colby King, or also expressing displeasure with the views expressed by the writer?

  • Alex Karpinski

    If I was replying to Colby King I would have replied to Colby King.

  • Colby King

    I saw the film at an early screening in Austin, TX with a sold-out crowd. Everyone loved it.

    The pedophelia comment this “critic” makes is just ridiculous. There are countless other horror films with actors this young in similar situations. I would LOVE to hear her make a comment like that about a film like 1982’s POLTERGEIST — which features similarly aged children being attacked by killer clowns and trees.

    This review is just reaching for something negative to say.

    How’s that for your, oh I don’t know, FACTS?

  • halavana

    “…A subplot about the Church’s recklessness when it comes to vulnerable
    children could have been, alas, very pointed and pertinent…”
    absolutely. someone should make that movie. thinking I’ll skip this one.

    I know of at least 1 situation in which a youth pastor was told “you’re on your own” by the senior pastor when some of the youth were found to be dabbling in things they should not. this reckless “not my problem” mentality leads to all kinds of dangers, “mortal and immortal”

    Thanks for the review.

  • susmart3

    FUNNY: The Annabelle of 2014’s Annabelle and now of Creation is a wooden doll clothed in a fine dress, and with a face that looks like what would happen to an American Girl doll after three years of meth abuse.

    CREEPY: The terrorized girls — pretty little blond girls — here are so young that it feels like a kind of pedophilia. Pedo-fear-lia?

  • Everyone loved it.

    You think that invalidates my review? Hahaha.

    There are countless other horror films with actors this young in similar situations.

    No, there aren’t. *Poltergeist* is NOT like this film. It does NOT contain sustain sequences of young girls’ terror meant to tantalize the viewer. It simply does not.

  • You’re very sweet. Would you care to explain what you liked about the film, and where you disagree with my review?

  • some of the youth were found to be dabbling in things they should not.

    I don’t know what this meant to refer to. But I was referring to the Church’s decades-long complicity in the sexual abuse of children by its own priests.

  • Danielm80

    I’m actually curious, not having seen the film, about how it does that. Does it linger over shots of the girls’ fear in the way that Michael Bay lingers over women’s body parts?

  • Alex Karpinski

    “The terrorized girls — pretty little blond girls — here are so young that it feels like a kind of pedophilia.” What a horrible thing to say. A movie where the majority of the cast are strong women yet just because the girls are young, therefore it’s “kind of pedophilia”.

  • Bluejay

    Pro tip: “Liking” your own comment is like high-fiving yourself. It’s lame, and doesn’t do anything for your cred.

  • Colby King

    “Pro tip” from… who are you again? What are you a professional at?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    You forgot to like your own post here. Now you just look wishy-washy.

  • Bluejay

    Ooh, withering scorn. And yet you’ve followed my advice. :-)

    Of course you COULD go back and “like” your last comment, and basically start high-fiving yourself again. We’ll all be laughing, but hey, you do you.

  • Colby King

    You’re so immature it’s amusing!

  • Bluejay

    Still not “liking” your posts. You’re welcome.

  • Colby King

    Why are you putting liking in quotes? It’s simply liking. How old are you? 50? Do you know how to use the Internet?

    Hopefully you are older. Maybe you’ll die sooner.

  • Bluejay

    Insult away, you’re STILL taking my advice. Heh.

  • Eric Hoheisel

    Recently there has been discussion that horror films are the most likely to pass the Bechdel test. It is undoubtedly true that horror protagonists are much more often female than male, and I think the reason behind this is that audiences quickly loose sympathy for male characters that act terrorized. It is fine for Jamie Lee Curtis or another female character to go from paralyzed, to crying and screaming, to accepting that she has to save herself, to fighting back ferociously, but audiences would very quickly if any able bodied adult character spent any time screaming or crying in a horror film.

  • No, it’s not “just because the girls are young.” It is HOW the young girls are treated onscreen.

  • Quit it, behave yourself, or your gone.

    And yes, liking your own comments is juvenile.

    Now everyone stick to discussing the movie, please.

  • Yes, basically.

  • Colby King

    It’s a HORROR MOVIE for Christ’s sake! It’s supposed to horrify you! Do you think an actual demonic presence would want to sit down with a group of young girls and have a cute little tea party and pretend the world is sunshine and rainbows?! NO! The entire point of the movie is for you to feel terrified for EVERY character involved: the adults and the children! It’s not “pedophilia”, IT’S HORROR! Good God, woman! You are so incongruous. Get over yourself. This is a horrible review, and you obviously have a bias towards horror films — so this review is just insanely unreasonable and unnecessary. The fact that you would even think in your right mind to compare a work of fiction to a truly horrible act is a sign of poor taste. You should be ashamed. Admit the film did it’s job and scared you, and move on.

  • Hmm. I wonder what could have clued you in to my bias against studio horror films. Could it be the fact that I mention that I am “not a fan of studio horror films” right at the top of the review?

    Do you think an actual demonic presence would want to sit down with a group of young girls and have a cute little tea party and pretend the world is sunshine and rainbows?!

    I’m not sure you understand how arts criticism works. In fact, I’m not even sure that you understand how the storytelling process works. This story — this particular collection of characters, settings, and events — does not exist on its own, or independent of a larger context. Multiple someones invented it. Demons are not real. A collection of young girls going to live in a private house in the middle of nowhere is unlikely, especially one with such a history as this one. Predators preying on little girls is a thing that really happens, however. Horror movies that sexualize women’s fear is a thing that also really happens. All of this is but a small part of the context in which this story was constructed, and it is absolutely valid to take them into consideration when analyzing the movie.

    compare a work of fiction to a truly horrible act is a sign of poor taste

    Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. Using fiction to comment on truly horrible things that have actually happened is one way that fiction can have resonance for the audience. It’s one of the ways in which fiction can be important and powerful and *necessary.*

    The entire point of the movie is for you to feel terrified for EVERY character involved

    And yet this film focuses in a lurid way on the terror of the two youngest girls. The script writer chose to make that the focus of the story. The director chose to present the girls’ terror in a particular way. The older girls here are almost ignored by the story, as are the adults.

    Admit the film did it’s job and scared you

    It didn’t scare me. Good God, man!

    Now, you deleted all of your other comments in this thread, because you received pushback from other readers. If you are going to throw a tantrum again, please do not bother to continue commenting here.

  • halavana

    I thought that’s what you were probably referring to, but fortunately I have no experience there. best case scenario was that some of the kids were dabbling in the occult and scaring themselves stupid.

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