The title of the new "Annabelle" movie is confusing, as I have seen it referred to as "Annabelle: Creation," but also "Annabelle 2." I have to go with what is one the final film's credits, and that is "Annabelle:Creation." So, that is the title.
This was a hard post to write, because I had to do a lot of back research on "The Conjuring" and the first "Annabelle" film to get at what is going on here. I suggest anyone who plans on seeing this do the same. The films, together, move backwards in time, making this franchise the "Merrily We Roll Along" of horror.
Who knew that this would turn out to be the Summer Of Girls School Movies? After the true horror of Sofia Coppola's "The Beguiled," not only did it surprise me that girls school dramatics, complete with a nun, are resorted to here, but, so help me, "Annabelle:Creation" is not only better than Coppola's remake, it is a movie that actually got under my skin.
The film is structured in layers, beginning with a very realistic opening. Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife, Esther (Miranda Ott) have a good life, and a cute young daughter. Mullins is a toy maker, starting his own company, his specialty being dolls. He finishes Doll No.1--and we all know who that is, don't we? They go to church, chat with a congregant. On the way home, the car breaks down, a part rolls out onto the street. The daughter goes to grab it--and is hit by a car. The reality of this sequence unfolding is brutal.
Next, we have two sisters, Janice and Linda, traveling on a bus full of orphans, headed by Sister Charlotte (of the Central Casting Far Too Pretty School Of Nuns), and a half a dozen orphans--some post pubescent Mean Girls, others too young yet. Janice (played in a remarkable performance by an actress named Talitha Bateman) is the most dramatically interesting, because she is given a crutch and leg brace to work with--a challenge for any actor. This is because, the story, set in the early 50's (the Mullins' daughter dies 12 years before, in the 40's), has Janice having survived the consequences of a polio outbreak in the area where the convent was. Now, the Mullins, in some sort of penitential offering, are taking the girls in. They have a lot to be penitential for. Mr. Mullin is emotionally broken by the death of his daughter, walking about catatonically, while Esther, his wife, is confined to her bed, hidden away by curtains and a half mask, like a latter day Miss Havisham. The girls have no idea what they are in for.
The relationship between Janice and Linda got to me, because its emotionality reminded me so much of that "Cold Episode" which upsets me, dreadfully, "A Dollar And A Dream." The way this film plays havoc with the life of crippled Janice had me on edge, wanting to charge the production company with child exploitation. However much of the physical work Miss Bateman does, the emotional is all hers, and she is the one here going for the Pamelyn Ferdin role in this piece. She, and audiences, are rewarded in the second half, when Janice (or is she?) does a complete personality turn. The audience and the actress have a really fun time!
All the older girls, like Grace Fulton, as Carol, are trying to channel Darleen Carr. They are still better than Coppola's girls. As for Annabelle, the doll, well, she moves, flies, leers, and creaks in a rocking chair--all enough to get the audience screaming. The grimace on this doll's face is so frightening alone, I would never have it in my house.
I cannot call the exact point, but it was something Janice did, where I realized where the film was going--and it does. There is nothing wrong with plot predictability here, but what is most surprising about this film is how the actors play it straight--not one inch of parody-- and how skillfully the camerawork and designers create an atmosphere of dread--the kind that can make even a child's nursery chilling. And the arid, California landscape, recalls the more lurid portions of John Steinbeck's "East Of Eden."
And that is another thing. The writing crams so much film reference into this film, aficionados can play a game while going along. Besides "Cold Case," "The Beguiled," and "East Of Eden," I spotted "Heavenly Creatures," "The Exorcist" (of course!) "The Ring," "The Other," and "The Good Son" (all because of the well sequences; at one point, I was expecting to see a cameo by Daveigh Chase!!!!!!!!!!), even "The Night Of The Iguana." And there may be more; if you spot any, let me know.
Oh, yes, Dickens, and "The Night Of The Hunter," the last by way of how creepily ambivalent LaPaglia plays his role.
But, girls, I am telling you, it is the cameo appearance by the Mysterious Black Nun that nearly steals the show! She turns up in a photo, and in some surprise shocks in the film, one at the very end, which requires audiences to stay past the credits.
I hope more gets done with this nun character, and I have every reason to expect it will. Because, I am telling you, from "The Sound Of Music," to "Dialogue Of The Carmelites," nuns sell tickets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That is hardly a surprise to me. The biggest surprise of all is that "Annabelle:Creation" may turn out to have been the best new movie I have seen this Summer. It actually is not half bad. I urge you to go.
And I want Miss Bateman 's career managed carefully. She shows every indication of being the Pamelyn Ferdin of her generation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!