In recent years, the latest horror franchise to conjure up globs of money from audiences has been the Conjuring Universe (the name Warner Brothers gave this horror franchise). While the first Conjuring movie, The Conjuring, reshaped the modern-day horror genre, its spin-off, Annabelle, was very underwhelming; in fact, I was so bored that I never finished watching it. But last year, the Conjuring Universe returned to its roots with The Conjuring 2, which was a formidable sequel to the original Conjuring. Up until this week, I wasn’t so sure audiences needed another horror franchise to follow due to what we have seen in years past with horror franchises and their lackluster sequels. But before seeing Annabelle: Creation, which is set before anything that happens in the three previous Conjuring movies, I can’t believe I would ever say this: if Warner Brothers and can keep making horror follow-ups as horrifyingly pleasing as Annabelle: Creation, count me in for this Conjuring Universe.
Former toy maker Sam Mullins and his wife Esther are happy to welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their California farmhouse. Years earlier, the couple lost their 7-year-old daughter Annabelle in a tragic car accident. Terror soon strikes when one of the girls finds a seemingly innocent doll that seems to have a life of its own.
As far as the story goes, it’s fairly straightforward, yet does a good job of tying everything into what producer James Wan has conjured up so far in this universe. That being said, however, it isn’t necessary for you to have seen any of the other Conjuring movies in order to follow the plot of Annabelle: Creation. And sure, while this prequel spin-off has a rather slow setup (which in a way contributes to the movie running about 15 minutes too long) and goes through the same tropes as many other horror movies, it’s a chill-inducing, freighting ride once the terror is set in motion. Annabelle: Creation takes us in and around a remote house in California, where every room and piece of land makes use of its props to give the audience what it paid for: scares. As the movie progresses, anything in and around the house becomes more vulnerable to the evil lurking around. And with that comes more delightful scares that are sure to make you consider keeping your lights on when you go to sleep later that night. It also helps that the movie’s leads, two young actresses named Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, who play friends in the orphanage located in the remote house, do a great job of making the terror believable to the point that it may give you goosebumps at times.
After the pale-as-its-title-character-doll Annabelle, I never would have thought a horror prequel spin-off centered around a stand-still, creepy-looking doll would make for a scary good movie. Luckily, up and coming director David F. Sandberg (who made last year’s terrific horror movie, Lights Out) proved me wrong thanks to his use of old-school horror tricks mixed with terrifying visuals to create shocking suspense that not only keeps the audience on its toes, but also engaged. It’s easy to see why Warner Brothers is confident enough in Sandberg to hand him the keys to Shazam! the next DC Comics movie slated to hit production, after making full use of the horror movie’s $15 million-dollar budget to great effect.
If there’s one genre that produces franchises that usually aren’t worth continuing for years on end until they stop making money, it’s the horror genre. Sure, the first couple of movies in a horror franchise rope you in, but the creative storytelling goes out the window in favor of tacked-on cheap scares in the numerous mundane sequels. This was evident with previous horror franchises Saw and Paranormal Activity. But with Annabelle: Creation, this genuinely creepy bump-in-the-night horror movie solidifies the foundation of the Conjuring Universe and builds on it’s intriguing connectivity; in fact, it’s almost on par with the original 2013 Conjuring movie.
And now, I look forward to the next entry in the Conjuring Universe, The Nun, which hits theaters next summer. If you want a taste of what’s to come from that film, be sure to stick around after Annabelle: Creation, which teases the demonic nun-centered spin-off in one of the movie’s two post-credits scenes.