“Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to “Annabelle,” which was a spinoff of “The Conjuring,” which was about the work of a pair of real-life paranormal investigators who really did once have a case involving a creepy doll. Now, at last, we can learn where the doll came from and how it got to be evil, solving a mystery that has nagged at the minds of Warner Bros. executives ever since “Annabelle” made enough money to warrant a followup.
This one, by returning writer Gary Dauberman and new director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”), continues the downward trend of the franchise and offers absolutely nothing new, though it does have a few tingly moments of mediocre-horror-movie flavor. It would take a worse filmmaker than David F. Sandberg to completely screw up a creepy doll scenario.
First there is a prologue, set in the ’40s, in which professional doll-maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), lose their beloved daughter Bee (Samara Lee) in an accident. The fact that Mullins’ latest creation looks a lot like Bee, though unmentioned, is hard to miss.
Fast forward 12 years. The Mullinses, now morose and secretive, Esther hidden away in her bedroom and Samuel wary of strangers, have incongruously offered their large rural house as a home for orphaned Catholic girls. Six of them arrive one day, supervised by one Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Four have dark hair and are in their mid-teens; the other two, the ones who matter, are blonde and a little younger — Janice (Talitha Bateman), who has polio-leg, and her trusty sidekick Linda (Lulu Wilson).
The house has the usual locked doors, hidden rooms, and creaky dumbwaiters, all the better to provide us with multiple instances of feeling mildly startled. Soon there are supernatural manifestations in the form of crayon-written notes that lead Janice to a boarded-up closet wherein the Mullinses have stashed the creepy doll that looks like their dead daughter. This, you will not be surprised to learn, leads to unholy mayhem.
Eventually, anyway. The trouble with derivative horror flicks that don’t have any new ideas is that you get bored waiting for all hell to break loose in the last 20-30 minutes. When it finally does, the effect is modestly chilling, with good use of light and shadows and excellent use of a scarecrow. Sandberg achieves a handful of good hero moments before the obligatory epilogue that ties it in with the other “Annabelle” movie (and won’t make any sense to people who haven’t seen it). There’s a vast trove of creepy objects, haunted artifacts, and other horror McGuffins from which to spin yarns, if that’s what these folks want to do. But they need to put more care into the craftsmanship, like Samuel Mullins used to do with his unsettling dolls.
C+ (1 hr., 49 min.; )