A dollmaker named Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) lives in harmony with his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and daughter “Bee” (Samara Lee) until the young girl dies in a tragic accident. Twelve years later, Samuel brings a group of six girls and their supervising nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) into the Mullins’ house after their orphanage shuts down. The girls initially love their new home, but then a series of strange occurrences, particularly surrounding a creepy doll and a door that refuses to stay locked, change their minds.
As most horror fans will be aware, 'Annabelle: Creation' serves as a prequel to 2014’s 'Annabelle' and is the fourth instalment of The Conjuring film series. Followers of the movie universe will be happy to see a number of references to other films in the franchise, and those unfamiliar with them will be satisfied that the film is still very much a work in its own, for which knowing all the references isn’t necessary.
Acting-wise, the film is of a somewhat mixed quality. The kids are undoubtedly the standouts with both Lulu Wilson (who you may recognise from 'Ouija: Origin of Evil') and Talitha Bateman delivering compelling performances as the young girls Linda and Jan, respectively. Philippa Coulthard and Grace Fulton also prove to be talented young thespians (they play the two eldest orphans, the remaining two of which don’t get much screen time and feel a little unnecessary) while LaPaglia and Otto are perfectly cast as the Mullins. Less convincing are Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte (a particular disappointment given her past credits in 'Narcos' and 'Spectre'), who seems way too modern, and Mark Bramhall as Father Massey. It is a jarring experience having a mixed standard of acting across a horror film as one feels either everyone needs to play it straight while totally immersing themselves in the role, or over-the-top so as to deliver an overt, self-aware type of horror.
Aside from that, there is much to admire in 'Annabelle: Creation'. The costume design and period recreation are very good, although the period is challenging to place (there are two time jumps in the film after all). Most importantly though, given in mind what kind of movie this is, it delivers on all the required frights and gore of the horror genre. In terms of the build-up of tension and scariness, the movie manages to be steadily increasingly intense without ever being slow-moving, and the finale is nail-biting, nerve-wrecking, and gripping.