Dollmaker Samuel Mullins opens his home to orphaned girls to fill the void created by his deceased daughter. The girls start discovering mysterious things around the house, surrounding Mullins’s toy creation, the first Annabelle doll.
A good horror movie makes your heart leap out of your chest while simultaneously tugging at your heartstrings. And we’re happy to report that Annabelle: Creation, the fourth installment in The Conjuring franchise, is emotionally potent and downright scary. In pre-Barbie America, dollmaker Samuel Mullins lives on a ranch with wife Esther and daughter Bee. The Mullins’s happiness is short-lived; they’re desolated by Bee’s sudden death. Twelve years pass, and Samuel decides to turn his empty home into an orphanage for six girls. Even before the girls can settle in and play house, the house starts throwing new horrors at them every night. Best friends Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) become the first victims of Samuel’s strange-looking locked-away doll, Annabelle.
The Conjuring movie universe grows inward and outward with prequels and sequels, each one delivering a terrifying new nightmare. The makers stick to old-school tactics of haunted houses, little-girl ghosts and jump-scares, but deliver coherent and effective movies. Director David F. Sandberg, a master of anticipatory horror (you must see Lights Out), builds a tense atmosphere even while working with a banal plot. The formula is so plain that you’d think you know the movie, but Sandberg infuses jumps and starts so creatively that it becomes a dangerous game of peek-a-boo. With a huge house and six girls in the forefront, there’s an unmissable The Conjuring vibe; a great reference to the previous (and undoubtedly inferior) Annabelle movie connects the universes perfectly. There are several sub-plots worthy of a spin-off. The story of Janice could be especially interesting. Talitha Bateman is a scene-stealer; her cold stares and measured madness make you wary of Janice. As helpless parents, Otto and LaPaglia bring tenderness to this terror-fest. Having watched the previous films will help, but the movie is a legitimate standalone chiller. If there were a Horror for Dummies guidebook, Annabelle: Creation would make for a good chapter in it.