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Annabelle: Creation is one big horror cliché

Annabelle: Creation travels along a predictable cliche-ridden road

Forty-four years after The Exorcist, preteen Catholic girls are still brutalised by demons. Annabelle: Creation is a spin-off from The Conjuring universe, expanding upon the tale of the abominable female doll said to be possessed by a spirit. But while The Conjuring and its sequels are (mostly) an effective exercise in scare rhythm, long fright sequences and serious characters, Annabelle seems perfunctory, an afterthought ridden with horror clichés (a spooky vinyl record, a dollhouse, a demonic scarecrow, etc), and devoid of flesh-and-blood characters with which we can sympathise.

The film has, to my count, two, or at best three, genuinely scary scenes, which aren't enough to redeem its overall mediocrity. Annabelle opens with Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) in a postcard-perfect life with his wife and young daughter, making a living as a dollmaker. Barely 10 minutes in, a tragedy occurs, and the Mullins lose their child. The film's main narrative begins 12 years later as Samuel opens his house to a group of orphaned girls and a nun, in the hope that the children will bring bustle into the gloomy house where he lives with his bedridden wife who's still traumatised by their loss.

One of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman), is a polio patient, making her a vulnerable victim. After settling in the house, Janice enters a room she's not supposed to enter (of course) and she encounters the spirit of the Mullins' dead daughter, as well as that horrible doll with the perpetual, bloodstained smirk -- if not Chucky's bride then his hellish accomplice. Somehow Janice has unlocked the evil spirit inside the doll, and now it's out for blood.

Well, not that much blood actually. Annabelle, though rated R in the US, doesn't have the spiritual violence of The Exorcist (the prime specimen of how Satan bullies little girls) or the psychological creeps of The Conjuring or It Follows (one of the best horror films in the past few years). You could say it's interesting that Annabelle has no religious authority to ward off the ghostly attacks -- no priest, and the nun (Stephanie Sigman) is quite useless -- but even that the anarchic streak doesn't pack a Satanic punch. So save for some flashes of inspired terror (especially the Charles Manson-inspired ending), the whole thing feels recycled and run-of-the-mill. Janice gets thrown around, shaken up, clawed and clutched, and yet she's just an empty vassal (so is her friend Linda, played by Lulu Wilson), and the absence of a real story makes the girls' misfortunes predictable and bland.

I'm sure there will be more sequels and the horror universe, like that of the superheroes, will keep expanding.

Annabelle: Creation

Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Talitha Bateman, Stephanie Sigman Directed by David F. Sandberg

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