For the life of me, I will never understand the popular appeal of the Annabelle doll. First appearing in The Conjuring — hands down one of this decade’s most exceptional horror movies — it went on to inspire a spinoff and now its soon-to-be sequel.
No matter how good The Conjuring proved to be, the Annabelle doll was predictably the worst part about it: a flashback antagonist that established the Warrens’ place in the budding horror franchise and an easy way to raise the stakes in the third act. It was the same, tired and overused “living doll” horror trope that’s been dragged through the mud by decades of terrible movies dedicated to it, which even this movie could do nothing to change.
As far as I’m concerned, Annabelle — a Conjuring prequel released to little fanfare but enormous profit — was a blatant cash-grab that somehow lucked into being a pretty decent horror flick. Despite everything going against — from its unoriginality to its poorly designed antagonist to the fact that this movie didn’t even have The Warrens defeating the evil doll in the end — smarter than average directing made it a disposable, if perfectly watchable, bit of schlock.
The physical doll was de-emphasized as the on-the-ground antagonist tormenting the happy family that end up buying it. Instead, they played up the fact that it was a conduit — a physical anchor — for a dark, metaphysical presence. The origin of the doll’s so-called possession was better than the movie deserved, and a few good scares peppered in throughout its runtime helped keep things entertaining enough to take up a lazy afternoon when I had nothing better to do with my time.
And now we have a second movie to contend with: not because the movie made that much money, but because it was so cheap to produce that whatever profit it made was more than enough to justify its continued viability as a near-blockbuster horror franchise. Still, $84 million on the domestic market is nothing to sneer at.
After watching its sequel’s — Annabelle: Creation‘s — latest trailer, however, I honestly can’t tell what I’m supposed to be caring about. We’ve pretty much come full circle with the series: the Annabelle doll is created, badgers some unsuspecting victims, gets sold to the girl’s in the first movie’s flashback, then gets eternally interred by the Warrens in the private museum of horrors. By any conceivable measure, that should close the book on any more of these prequels. Evidently not.
After inviting a demon they think is their dead daughter to live with them inside of the porcelain doll, an old couple transforms their home into an orphanage as an act of penance. The children who move in, however, soon become tormented by the spirit that still directs the doll to action, which singles out a crippled girl because she’s “the weakest” of group.
Annabelle: Creations looks to make every mistake that its predecessor mostly succeeded at avoiding. The new movie cannot possibly fit into the series’ established timeline, and seems to suggest an entirely new origin for a villain that nobody particularly cared about to begin with. The scares are more telegraphed than the more tense-feeling ones in the earlier movies and the doll seems to be reimagined from anchoring a demon to our world to being possessed by it.
It might sound strange to say it aloud, but I expected better from this franchise. Blumhouse has more than proven itself as the preeminent voice in producer-driven horror and the Conjuring movies have all been horrific little romps, if nothing else. This just looks sad.