A Sequel/Prequel that serves up more scares than its predecessor and that helps firmly establish the Conjuring Universe.

Director: David F. Sandberg/2017

A Conjuring Universe (CU) is slowly taking shape for the horror genre and may be the best chance at a true “dark universe” that Universal is going for with their classic monster series, kicking off with this year’s The Mummy.  But the CU already has done the leg work to lay a foundation and then weave several spin-offs from it.  This was not always the plan, but with Annabelle: Creation, a CU is forming intentionally now, and if you are a fan of The Conjuring and its larger world, then this will be good news for you, especially in light of this latest entry.

James Wan directed both Conjuring films, which were stories based on the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two very famous demonologists, who are the centerpiece of this series.  As was established in The Conjuring, and reinforced in The Conjuring 2, the Warrens have kept many possessed items and locked them up in their home, in a special room.  This is done primarily to keep whatever evil that has attached itself to these items, away from potentially innocent victims.  One of these items is the famed Annabelle doll, which was featured in the first spin-off film from The Conjuring, titled simply: Annabelle.  At the start of the film and again as that film ended, we hear the voices of The Warrens interviewing some individuals on how they obtained the possessed doll, as the credits then fade to black.  The Warren’s involvement with this doll would potentially make for good material for a future Conjuring entry, but it is meant simply as a means of tying the film back to the Conjuring world, and nothing more.  With Annabelle: Creation, writer Gary Dauberman, who also wrote Annabelle, and is the screenwriter for this fall’s Stephen King adaptation of It, seeks to firmly establish the extended world of this new truly “dark universe”.

Annabelle: Creation is a much stronger film than its predecessor.  The characters, story, and even the scares are in another league compared to the earlier entry.

Annabelle: Creation documents the earliest beginnings of the possessed doll.  Dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) live in a small community on some property along with their young daughter (Samara Lee).  One of the dollmaker’s creations is of course Annabelle.  When tragedy strikes the young girl, Samuel and Esther withdraw in grief.

Twelve years later, we see a school bus of orphans making its way to the Mullins’ property.  There, several girls of varying ages will live at the Mullins’ house, along with the Mullins, and Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), the nun of the orphanage.  Mr. Mullins has invited the church’s priest to host the orphanage at his house when the church lost their existing property, enabling the girls to stay together.  Mr. Mullins gives them the tour of the property, but informs them that the room on the second floor that is locked should stay locked.  In addition, the Mullins’ bedroom, where Esther hides away from sight is also off limits.  Everywhere else is for the girls to use.

As the girls begin to see and hear strange things in and around the house, curiosity will lead them to discover the origins of this doll’s association with the demon that seeks to destroy all who come in contact with it, as well as planting possible Easter eggs and plot connections with next year’s next Conjuring spin-off, The Nun, also penned by Gary Dauberman.  Each of these films in the CU are produced by Wan.

Annabelle: Creation is a much stronger film than its predecessor.  The characters, story, and even the scares are in another league compared to the earlier entry. Director David F. Sandberg received much praise for his short film, Lights Out, which was effectively scary in its brief under-3 minute runtime, for his use of practical effects over CGI, and how he uses light to set up his scares.  Annabelle: Creation features this, and by making the sequel of Annabelle a true prequel instead of a continuation, he is able to separate his film from some of the bigger failures of the first film, rather than being dependent on the Annabelle story threads to be involved in the narrative he is trying to tell.  Now that there is coordinated effort between the producers, directors and writers of the various films in the CU to connect these stories, we are getting much tighter scripts. While these may exist on one level to perpetuate the CU brand and generate profit, it actually helps to create better and more developed storylines and characters, which make for a much more effective cinema experience for the audience.

How scary you will find this film will depend on your mileage in the horror genre, but on the whole, David F. Sandberg has crafted a very solid spin-off that will serve the Conjuring Universe well.  It will at least provide enough tension and excitement to keep people on the edge of their seat, making for a solid end-of-the-summer popcorn film.  It also will generate some really strong interest in The Nun, hopefully leading into a new future Conjuring film starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Fermiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren.  There is also talk about developing a film for The Conjuring 2‘s The Crooked Man, so look for even more CU films in the future.

With all of the talk about extended universes, Marvel films and now The Conjuring, seem to have the right idea.  Create films that people love, and if you’re lucky, do it again.  If that is successful, begin exploring stories outside the boundaries of the main story, and then connect the dots into a larger web.  We have to care about the story and the characters first.  Just creating a giant connected hodgepodge of randomness on purpose that people are forced to see just because it is connected matters very little if you haven’t made something people truly are drawn to.  Universal, and to some extent DC films, have tried to force something first, and deal with story and characters second, and they have paid the price.  While DC is starting to right their ship, the jury is still out on Universal.  In the meantime, the true “dark universe” is truly forming around the world of the Warrens as we were introduced to them in The Conjuring.  Annabelle: Creation is a welcomed entry in the CU, and a scary-filled fun time at the movies.