The Latest Conjuring Spin-off
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The Conjuring universe gets another entry in this prequel follow-up to the successful horror movie Annabelle. Hot off his success with one of last year’s better horror movies, Lights Out, rising horror auteur David F. Sandberg attempts to mesh his style with The Conjuring’s proven formula. Annabelle: Creation is probably the weakest installment yet from the franchise if you are purely looking for frights, though its change in tone from the first Annabelle with a more haunting atmosphere will likely win it a different group of fans. Diehard Conjuring fans will want to watch for its direct connection to the original Annabelle and a glimpse at the next Conjuring universe spin-off, The Nun.
The film stars Stephanie Sigman (Spectre), Talitha Bateman (The 5th Wave), Lulu Wilson (Ouija 2, Deliver Us from Evil), Philippa Coulthard (After the Dark), Grace Fulton (Badland), Lou Lou Safran (The Choice), Samara Lee (The Last Witch Hunter), with Anthony LaPaglia (TV’s Without a Trace) and Miranda Otto (Showtime’s Homeland). Tayler Buck makes her feature film debut. This isn’t a cast of big stars, but a solid group of character actors making reliable performances.
Annabelle: Creation is a period piece steeped in the early 1950s. Largely taking place at a remote country house without television and a telephone, this has the atmosphere of an old-fashioned ghost story. Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his disabled wife will take in a nun and her group of orphaned girls into their home. The girls will soon become the target of the dollmaker’s own creation, the infamous Annabelle doll. Mysteriously locked in a room and warned to stay away by the dollmaker, Annabelle will soon exert a sinister influence on the young girls.
Sam (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto) take in a group of orphaned girls with their teacher, Sister Charlotte. They live in a creepy place better suited for the Addams Family than a young group of curious orphans. Sam is a renowned dollmaker and the original creator of Annabelle the doll. The death of their young daughter over a decade earlier has shattered their life.
The central focus of Annabelle: Creation is the young Janice ( Talitha Bateman), a polio victim with a crippled leg. Most closely resembling Sam’s own daughter of the group, Janice is an unhappy orphan. Picked on by the older orphans, her only friend is Linda. Janice is a sympathetic character irresistibly drawn to the forbidden room in Sam’s house. She encounters the ghost of Sam’s daughter and Annabelle the doll, now residing in the room. The possessed doll begins making threatening moves against Janice, setting off a cascade of demonic activity.
The movie treats the material with a little too much respect
The movie treats the material with a little too much respect
The first hour is sluggishly paced and doesn’t offer enough frights, while the final act goes wildly over the top with a number of exaggerated CGI moments. Parts of The Conjuring and Annabelle were packed with truly visceral scares that made you jump in your seat. That didn’t happen for me in this movie. Annabelle: Creation spends a lot of time with character building, an odd choice for a studio horror movie built around a demonically possessed doll. The movie treats the material with a little too much respect. That is not to say there aren’t excellent moments in Annabelle: Creation. If you like simmering tension and ghostly suspense, this is the movie for you.
The screenplay doesn’t know whether it wants to be a traditional ghost story or demonic thriller. My biggest complaint is the origin we finally get for Annabelle as a possessed doll, which gets told in a rushed flashback sequence. It’s like someone realized the narrative needed it as an Annabelle prequel and wrote it in at the last minute. Twenty minutes of editing down the movie would have worked wonders, running ten minutes of two hours. Stick around after the credits for a sneak peek at The Nun, the next movie coming from The Conjuring producers.
Annabelle: Creation is only so-so as an extension of the Conjuring universe, though it does finally detail Annabelle’s demonic origins. Its horror style and atmosphere are more for fans of Sandberg’s Lights Out than the previous Annabelle. Taking all of that into consideration, you could still do a lot worse when renting a horror movie.
Annabelle: Creation has excellent production values for a horror flick. Its consistent cinematography produces solid picture quality for 1080P video on this Blu-ray. The even contrast and color saturation aren’t heavily tweaked for dramatic effect, a first for the Conjuring universe of films. The 2.39:1 presentation is encoded in AVC on a BD-50. The fine AVC encode handles the darker moments without degrading into macroblocking.
This is crisp, clean video from a pristine digital intermediate. The transfer nicely handles the film’s crucial black levels, as several key scenes involve spirits fading into black. The level of texture and detail maintain the needed shadow delineation, always so important in horror. Consistent definition enables a razor-sharp experience.
Annabelle: Creation features a Dolby Atmos soundtrack remixed specifically for the home theater environment to place and move audio anywhere in the room, including overhead. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack’s core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio has an immersive mix packed with thumping, tight bass. It enlivens the spooky atmosphere with whisper-quiet dialogue that never gets overpowered by the louder dynamics.
The sound includes impressive channel separation filled with ambient sounds coming from every direction when necessary. It’s a fine blend of subtle noises and explosive sonic moments in crystal-clear sound quality.
I would suggest it’s a step behind the Conjuring films’ audio in terms of sound design and activity, which were both reference class all the way. That being said, this is strong audio that plays well into the horror film’s best moments. Some restraint has been shown in how aggressive the dynamics become if you have a complete home theater system.
Optional English SDH, Latin Spanish, Parisian French, and Brazilian Portuguese subtitles display in a white font. They remain inside the scope framing at all times. Canadian French, Latin Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese dubs play in 5.1 Dolby Digital at 640 kbps. A Descriptive English Audio track is included in 5.1 Dolby Digital at 640 kbps.
Some have complained Annabelle: Creation didn’t come out on UHD. Horror movies don’t seem to be a huge priority for Warner Bros. on UHD at the moment. This Blu-ray and DVD combo set includes an UltraViolet digital copy that redeems in HDX quality on VUDU. First pressings include a slipcover.
What we do get is a nice set of supplements, including a thoughtful director’s commentary and an extended documentary breaking down the directing process by David F. Sandberg.
Deleted Scenes Featurette (12:04 in HD) – Director David F. Sandberg introduces each scene as they play and discusses why they ultimately got cut from the film. Nothing included is groundbreaking but we see glimpses of Sister Charlotte’s backstory that was cut out in the final version.
Directing Annabelle (42:21 in HD) – David F. Sandberg uses extensive behind-the-scenes footage from the set to showcase his working process as he directed the movie. Sandberg talks at length on what a director does on set and how a movie is put together. The lengthy featurette is excellent for aspiring filmmakers and fairly unique for a bonus feature.
The Conjuring Universe (04:51 in HD) – James Wan of The Conjuring fame discusses the connected fictional universe he’s been putting together that ties his Conjuring movie with Annabelle and next year’s upcoming The Nun.
Attic Panic (03:10 in HD) – A short film that inspired Annabelle: Creation.
Coffer (03:09 in HD) – A short film that also helped inspire Annabelle: Creation.
Director’s Commentary – David F. Sandberg gives an informative discussion of his movie that loaded with lucid anecdotes and insight. His commentary actually made me appreciate the movie more because it’s clear he’s put a lot of thought and effort into the film.
Stephen King’s It Trailer (02:38 in HD)
Justice League Trailer (04:03 in HD)
Middle Earth: Shadow of War Promo (02:27 in HD)
Dunkirk Trailer (02:24 in HD)
Annabelle’s prequel is a lesser entry compared to the Conjuring movies but serves up enough ghostly suspense for horror fans.
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