Annabelle: Creation review
Janice (Talitha Bateman) breaks the first rule of horror movies – she’s snooping around a room where Annabelle is kept. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Annabelle (2014), the first spin-off movie based on the infamous demonic doll from James Wan’s successful horror franchise, The Conjuring, was just plain bad. It was predictable and a painfully pedestrian horror movie. So imagine my surprise when the prequel that nobody asked for, Annabelle: Creation, actually hit the right notes!

Annabelle: Creation details the origin story of the creepy Annabelle doll that eventually becomes the conduit of a demonic force and terrorises anyone who crosses its path. The Conjuring franchise is based on actual documented cases of real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively. So let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that the Annabelle doll is one of these cases and that the real-life item is still being kept today in the Occult Museum, which is filled with haunted objects, at the Warren family home in Connecticut.

At risk of spoiling your enjoyment of the movie, the real thing is actually a Raggedy Ann doll, a retro brand of plush-like dolls, rather than the nightmare fuel that is Wan’s interpretation.

Annabell: Creation review
Tea time with Annabelle? No, thank you. Bye. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Here’s the (fictional) plot: Several years after the death of their young daughter, a dollmaker (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Eowyn Miranda Otto) open up their farm house to a group of orphaned girls and their guardian, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Soon, the girls – particularly a recuperating polio patient named Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) – become the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation.

The movie goes back to its Conjuring roots – the story is set in a large, labyrinth-like haunted house in the middle of nowhere which is often a reliable scare. For the genre aficianodos who have watched one too many horror movies, there’s nothing new to see here. The scare tactics, like apparitions sneaking up on the characters in full view of the audience and cutting off the soundtrack completely to create an uneasy silence, are all too familiar. But that doesn’t mean that Annabelle: Creation isn’t an effective scarefest in its own right.

In spite of the gimmicky jump scares, the pacing is actually measured and there is a discernible mounting tension as the demon becomes increasingly dangerous. This is, for the most part, thanks to the assured direction of David F. Sandberg, who made one of last year’s best horror movies, Lights Out.

Annabell: Creation review
The orphaned girls explore their new home before it all goes to shit. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Sandberg also made an effective ensemble out of the largely unknown cast. Otto, whose character becomes something of a recluse after her daughter’s demise, is sadly under-utilised but the young actresses who play the orphans turn in convincing performances that carried the film.

I am especially impressed by Bateman, who plays the quiet and kind-hearted polio-stricken Janice who eventually becomes possessed by the doll’s demon. She displays range as she effortlessly transforms from spirited young girl to frightened victim to psychotic murderer.

Annabelle: Creation may not be one of the more original horror films out there like Get Out (see our review) or It Follows, but it is leagues apart from its dismal predecessor and frightening enough to finally do its creepy star some justice.

Annabelle: Creation is out in cinemas now. Have you seen her? Tell us what you think!