'Annabelle: Creation' Review: A Relentlessly Frightening, Superior Horror Follow-Up

(This review originally ran following an early screening at Comic-Con. Annabelle: Creation is in theaters today.)

While sequels tend to have trouble measuring up to the originals, in the horror world, there are plenty of occasions in which a follow-up, no matter how deep into the franchise fans have gone, turns out to be a surprisingly satisfying entry into its canon. In the case of Annabelle: Creation, we're handed a sequel that runs circles around the original, both as a quality film and as a gruesome, terrifying piece of horror storytelling.

Much like Ouija: Origin of Evil from last year, Annabelle: Creation is actually a prequel instead of a sequel. As the title implies, the movie provides the origin story of how the possessed doll that eventually ends up in the hands of The Conjuring's paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren first came to be inhabited by an evil entity.

The film takes place over a decade before the events of Annabelle, and we meet Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) as she accompanies a small group of orphan girls who have been taken in by Sam (Anthony La Paglia) and Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto). The couple was once a happy, lively pair of parents, until their daughter Annabelle was struck by a car and killed. Now, twelve years later, they keep to themselves, with Sam tending to Esther because of some kind of illness that keeps her bedridden. But they hope to bring a little light into the house by helping these orphaned girls have a home for a little while.

Our two main young characters are Linda (Lulu Wilson, from Ouija: Origin of Evil, coincidentally enough) and Janice (Talitha Bateman). They're best friends and vow to make sure that if one of them gets adopted, the other has to come with them. It's clear they've stuck together for awhile as they wait for a family to take them in, but Janice struggles even more because a bout with polio has made her left leg weak, forcing her to walk with a brace on her leg and a crutch on one arm.

Janice is the one who discovers the possessed doll Annabelle, tucked away in the room that once belonged to the Mullins' deceased daughter, after a note is passed under her door from a room that's supposed to be locked. Of course, the young girl unwittingly releases the demon that resides in the doll, and what's surprising is just how forward and aggressive the demon is in pursuing the soul that it needs to finally be free from the doll.

Annabelle Creation Review

Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) does a fine job of setting the stage for the horror to come, especially when it comes to introducing little setpieces or elements that come into play as the horrors begin to unfold. Things like a malfunctioning dumbwaiter, the bell Esther rings to get the attention of Sam, and an old but functional chair lift on the stairs are all introduced innocently enough, but become tools of terror as the movie goes on. You'll also probably never want to sleep on bunk beds again, and you'll find out why.

While Annabelle: Creation is a little slow to start, once strange things start happening around the house, things escalate quickly and simply don't stop, almost as if writer Gary Dauberman had a rule to scare you every few minutes. It's shocking how intense, suspenseful and gruesome the scares are in this movie, each more surprising than the last. There are jump scares for sure (some do exactly what you expect while others play against expectations), but there are moments where you'll be taken aback simply because of how bold the demon is in harming the inhabitants of the house. As soon as Annabelle is free, all bets are off, and the movie becomes relentlessly frightening to the point that you won't be able to sit still in your seat.

If there's one problem I have with Annabelle: Creation, it's that despite how effective the movie is in being a genuinely scary horror movie, those scares come from an evil force that doesn't seem to follow any set of rules. Thankfully, the movie is chilling enough to keep any questions you might have about the demon's limitations at bay, but they do occasionally creep up as the scares begin to escalate. It's not an issue that cripples the movie, but it's something that does enter your brain from time to time.

Funnily enough, Annabelle: Creation avoids explaining the origin until the film's third act, even though it's very clearly explained in the film's trailer. But you don't need to know how/why the doll was possessed to be terrified of this demonic presence. You know what you paid for, and if anything, the movie benefits from not laying out the groundwork for the doll's possession until it comes time for our characters to understand where it came from. But the most important thing is that this is a suspenseful, scary and superior follow-up to Annabelle, and that's great news for fans of The Conjuring cinematic universe.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10