Source: New Line Cinema/WB.
Annabelle: Creation meets all the requirements of being a movie in 2017. It's a sequel/prequel. It came out in a movie theater. It's part of a "universe". It has actors and special effects. But merely meeting the bare minimum requirements does not make a thing good. In fact, Annabelle: Creation showcases all the of the issues at the heart of what's wrong with modern filmmaking.
If you want a review with a letter or number grade, go elsewhere. My goal is not to tell you the merits of this movie based on itself. No, rather I want to point out how this movie fails and how its failure is indicative of the last few years of Hollywood movie making.
The Annabelle series and related movies fall in a universe around the very real couple, the Warrens. Ed and Lorraine Warren were real people who tasked themselves with investigating the paranormal. As such, Annabelle is a real "possessed doll" that exist in our reality. The movie versions of the doll and the Warrens are absolutely nothing like the real versions, however.
Based on a true story means not a damned thing in Hollywood.
In my opinion, the Warrens were somewhere between sincere believers in the paranormal and con artists, likely falling closer to con artist. See, the most famous case they were involved with, the Amityville incident, is a known fraud. As for Annabelle, her real world counterpart is not particular creepy, being a Raggedy Anne doll. Oh, and she is kept with other evil and occult items in the Warrens collection, including D&D books (as in Dungeons & Dragons) and known fakes like the supposed Necronomicon.
I have to believe an expert in the paranormal would know that D&D is just a game and there is no real Necronomicon.
When you tell a true story, it's ok to embellish or leave out details. No one wants to watch a movie about Hitler focusing on his love of his dog, Blondie. And no one wants to see a movie about a heroic woman overcoming adversity that focuses on going to the bathroom and how rude she was to her neighbor. But have some idea of the truth behind the true story.
Hollywood doesn't seem to grasp this idea. As such, anything can have "Based on a true story" stuck on it as long as it someone came from a real thing, even if that real thing happened to just be the chair in the room that the main characters sit in. Would a true story about the real Warrens and the real Annabelle be better? Maybe, maybe not. But there's nothing resembling reality in Annabelle: Creation. Imagine if they made a prequel to a true story about Thomas Edison that had Thomas Edison fighting demons in space. Would that be cool? Maybe. Would that be fair to the real people involved? Maybe not.
Source: The actual Annabelle doll design, courtesy of Target.com.
What Annabelle: Creation does well, however, is bombard you with a series of decent jump scares in the guise of a story without plot or logic. That isn't a movie, that's a ride. There's nothing wrong with scaring yourself on a ride at Universe Studios. But when I watch a movie, especially a horror movie, I like it to maintain some internal logic and psychology. I can accept an evil doll killing people, IF that movie has a reason for existing and coherence. I also need that universe to have structure and order.
Dolls can be evil? Ok. How? Why? Where?
It's here that the entire movie breaks down and is the example of all our current issues with Hollywood.
"Annabelle: Creation is like a film written by a committee of
people who have never met and only have bullet points."
I have no idea if one or 47 people wrote Annabelle: Creation. One Gary Dauberman is credited as writer but I find that hard to believe he acted alone. Annabelle: Creation is like a film written by a committee of people who have never met and only have bullet points.
At one point Sister Charlotte (Is Charlotte a traditional Hispanic name?) and Creepy Dad Figure (Anthony LaPaglia, criminally underused here) are looking at a picture. In it, we see a demonic figure never noticed before. This is clearly NOT Annabelle but is never mentioned or referenced again. Ever.
Throughout most of the movie - including in a pivotal scene where light bulbs are unscrewed - our demonic Annabelle character shows a strong aversion to the light. Except for that time demonic entity Annabelle became a full frown woman and pushed our wheelchair-bound main character (Janice) in a barn at roughly 2 PM on the sunniest day of the year.
Annabelle is harmed or contained by religious iconography. A key scene involves Sister Charlotte telling Janice that it is not her weak body that is causing the demon to mess with her, but her lack of faith. Then, inexplicable, a cross we've seen being made and mentioned a couple of times does absolutely squat to stop Annabelle... As does prayer, faith, and even the room of religious symbolism that earlier kept her contained.
It's almost as if the folks making the film didn't care about logic or scene structure. The movie feels like a series of jump scared tied together by random parts of different movies, with no rhyme or reason. Need your evil monsters to suddenly have the power to bring life to inanimate objects? Sure! Need it to suddenly be 10 feet tall? Great!
But that isn't storytelling. That's nonsense. A story should have structure, coherence, and an internal logic. If you make a story about how giant, alien snails can shape-shift into babies to try and eat their parents, that's fine, AS LONG AS we understand the rules and laws of giant, alien shape-shifting baby snails.
It's just that easy. Unfortunately, much of Hollywood doesn't understand this. For example...
Look at a great horror movie with a great story and solid internal logic like Alien. Alien is about space marines who find an alien life form. That alien life form acts like a biological organism, but is stronger, faster, and less intelligent than us. It "mostly" comes out at night, but can walk around during the day. It has acid blood and has a set reason for killing people: It needs them to be an intermediary host for its life cycle.
Alien works fantastically well as a horror movie. There are jump scares and psychological horror. There's a feeling of claustrophobia and the fear of the unknown. I care about the characters. Other great horror movies include The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street, and It Follows.
Source: It Follows.
All of these movies have things Annabelle: Creation doesn't have and that many Hollywood movies lack now...
A self-contained story, a sense of internal logic, a reason for scenes to exist, an understanding of how the evil force works, pointed dialog, main characters who make decent choices based on the events before them, and movies that don't suddenly change the rules of the game based on whatever will look "cool" or "scary".
If you can't make your own ideas work into the logic of the story, you've failed as a storyteller.
I keep returning to one of my least-favorite movies ever, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It's a great example of the Annabelle: Creation problem in that it is a cool idea bogged down by mindlessness and a lack of internal logic instead of a look at why the events are happening and who the characters are. There, we found that great actors and interesting visuals couldn't save a lack of dialog worth saying or story worth telling. Batman v. Superman and Annabelle: Creation - and all the movies like them - are the vodka shots or ice cream of Hollywood films. Sure, sometimes they are fun and maybe even needed, but a steady diet will kill you. Also, no one needs vodka shots and ice cream. In fact, they're probably bad for you. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy them in moderation.
And then there are the glaring, bizarre errors. At one point, one of the orphan girls is just... not in a scene or 2. She just disappears. Where was she? In the bathroom? Someone is killed and hung up ala the Silence of the Lambs crucifixion scene. Later, that same person is now on the ground in a different area and with apparently different damage to her body. Or was there a random other person around? How do objects other than Annabelle teleport around? If Annabelle is seemingly ever-present and all-seeing, how can she just missed a little girl hiding in one scene but then know exactly where everyone is in a house AND barn later on? Why did she need permission to enter the doll but not to enter a scarecrow or a girl?
"But when an entire movie is riddled with mistakes that might otherwise
be enjoyable, you can't help but focus on the absurdity."
It's maddening stupidity that would be just simple issues to fix. When these minor annoyances get fixed, it helps to bolster the entire film. A great movie like Star Wars: A New Hope has mistakes. We laugh when the Stormtrooper bonks his head. But when an entire movie is riddled with mistakes that might otherwise be enjoyable, you can't help but focus on the absurdity.
"Hey, where is Character X? How did Character Y transport themselves 3 miles in 6 seconds? How is Object V broken and then repaired magically""
There are other issues with Annabelle. For one, Annabelle was a real girl but then she wasn't the force that possessed the doll. That was a demon pretending to be Annabelle. But that demon then entered another girl, still calling itself Annabelle. Oh, and the doll was also still named Annabelle. Why didn't the demon change it's name? Why was Annabelle now a demon? How did Annabelle get the demon doll back to re-enter and why did it do that? Or was there a second Annabelle doll? It's just... silliness.
This is how Hollywood seems to work now. Someone has a good idea. That idea is written down. A committee changes and alters that idea to fit some concept of what people want. As a result, that idea comes out as a confusing, ugly mess.
Source: The trailer for this garbage.
Annabelle: Creation had a good idea at its core. A deeply religious couple loses their child and, so distraught over their loss, they turn from goodness to an evil force to beg for just one more moment with their daughter. They get much more than they bargained for.
Sounds like a decent idea for a horror movie? Imagine a movie, with that exact plot about the origins of Annabelle, but instead of a series of jump scares circling a plot-less wasteland of idiocy, it's a small, tight story about what it means to love and lose a child. Maybe the movie focuses on that couple as they come to realize it was not Annabelle who came back, but an evil force pretending to be Annabelle. Then it ends with a family broken and Annabelle cast away, curse and all, for some hapless child to find.
Is that a better origin story? I don't know, but it certainly sounds better than the paint-by-numbers rudderless nonsense I watched. Here's my rating of Annabelle: Creation - Don't see it. Don't keep giving your money to this Hollywood garbage. Demand better storytelling in your horror. You can have a silly horror movie with character development, internal logic, a sense of self, and a bit of intelligence. Trust me, they exist.
Anyone who tells you that horror doesn't need to make sense has never read Edgar Allen Poe or seen The Others. I pit them.
What did you think about Annabelle: Creation? Let Nerdbot know in the comments!