Usually when a sequel comes out to a film everybody hated it is doomed no matter how good it is. It seemed everyone hated The Conjuring spin-off Annabelle so logically its sequel should crash and burn. This has not happened: it has done better than Annabelle did in the US and the worldwide box office. Maybe its the Rotten Tomatoes factor – its reviews have been significantly better than part one. Or maybe The Conjuring Part 2 came out between these killer doll movies and reset the love from audiences for this whole spooky universe.
For that is what we have arrived at folks: The Conjuring movies and its children are officially part of a shared universe and we didn’t even know it. It helps that:
a) No one told us that this was a shared universe to start with, despite the other stories were already well in development before the first Conjuring even came out and
b) They’ve all been really good, well made and frightening movies. Which is always a bonus. Even the first Annabelle – yeah suck it Rotten Tomatoes. I’m right, you’re wrong. Oh also…
c) They’re not The Mummy.
Annabelle: Creation continues this series by being exceptionally scary and not just sticking to one thing. If it was just a creepy looking wooden doll we had to deal with I’m not sure the story could have lasted until half way through the first reel of the first movie (some would argue it barely made it through the prologue of The Conjuring but that’s their problem). Fortunately Annabelle: Creation not only sets us up with the macabre figure of Annabelle herself and her demon we briefly saw in the first film (I think he’s smaller here, which makes sense as this is set years before hand so is less powerful) but a whole host of other creepy images. Things under the bed, crawling darkness up the doorway, half bodies climbing up gaps in the walls and a scarecrow.
That’s one of the funnest things about Annabelle: Creation, it sets up all the set pieces in the early part of the movie, like traps waiting to spring. Half a dozen female orphans and their nun (?) arrive at a country house where a grieving couple take them on after the death of their daughter. The girls all explore around the house and there is the scarecrow in the barn, a broken down old butler’s lift, a ringing bell and, best of all, a really creaky old Stannah Stairlift that takes a crippled girl very slowly all the way up to the top of the house. You know what is going to happen with all these objects and contraptions but that is half of the fun.
And these Conjuring films really are a lot of fun. The frights are varied and can be from a jump scare to something very slow building and subtle. Its a shame that the recent It didn’t learn a thing or two on how to do genuine scares from these films. The stories are relatively simple and maybe not that original but they are all about the framework: setting up the characters and situations as a basis for the main event: to frighten the bejesus out of you. I loved It and it obviously had a better story but it was a very dense one, packed with incident and asides to the point that it didn’t have time to let the scares genuinely frighten you, or at least me.
The Conjuring films are much more bare bones, though thats not to say that you aren’t invested in the characters. The girls here, well the two main ones anyway, are a likeable bunch and you want them to get out of this thing mostly unscathed, not that this is guaranteed. Another good aspect of these films: death is always just around the corner… the most frightening thing of all.
As for the shared universe – well if this is the first one to fully embrace it then its done a fine job. The film doesn’t lurch to a giant stand still as a bunch of new characters turn up to talk about some international ghost agency (god help us if that happens in the next film). Instead there are just a few hints here and there – plus a post credit scene which is really just telling us what the next film is about.
This whole “Creation” thing though I’m not so sure about. Why call a film creation if the only creation you see is a tiny moment in the opening credits. I get that there is a bit more as to how the doll became evil in the first place but that’s pretty obvious and uninteresting really. What we are left with is a couple of shots of a doll maker following instructions and that’s it. Its like when Leatherface got his chainsaw in Leatherface: The Beginning – he was walking along and saw a chainsaw so picked it up. Et voila! Bit pointless really.
In fact why do we keep on having to have prequels all the time? What happened to horror movies carrying on with the story? The first Annabelle was a prequel to The Conjuring, this one is a prequel to Annabelle. Then there are the Insidious films which seem to just be going backwards now too. Okay they aren’t in this universe but they feel exactly the same so I’m putting them in there too. So where next? Are we just going to go back and back until Cain is being haunted by Abel?
A minor problem though, even if these films weren’t part of a shared universe they work really well floating on their own two feet. Annabelle: Creation has some great scares (helped no end by the vast majority of them being practical effects or just plain old fashioned camera trickery) and whilst I don’t think that a scare is the be-all-and-end-all of horror, it is always a lovely thing to behold when done well.