(15) ★★★

Annabelle: Creation

WHAT on earth possessed someone to make the inherently creepy Annabelle doll, first seen in 2013’s The Conjuring and the main feature of this second prequel/spin-off? How did it become imbued with evil and on the path to paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren?

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As the title suggests, this takes us back to the foundation to answer those very questions and, unlike the fairly naff previous Annabelle film, has a good amount of genuinely scary tricks up its antique sleeve along the way.

Things start off in the 1940s where talented doll maker Samuel (Anthony Lapaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) live a secluded but peaceful life that gets shattered one day when their beloved young daughter “Bee” (Samara Lee) is killed in a car crash.

Jump forward 12 years and Samuel decides to open his large home to a group of girls and a nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), after their nearby orphanage closed down. Soon after they move in, the girls start to notice a malevolent presence that seems to be coming from the eponymous doll.

As he did with last year’s effective shadow-focused horror Lights Out, director David F Sandberg showcases his talent for well-staged frights, both of the requisite jump scare variety and that unnerving feeling of something not being quite right in the room. He also makes nice use of the age old setting of the labyrinthine, seemingly endless house to create a sense of uneasiness in what should be a safe place for its characters.

Those characters are given more depth than you might think from this prequel-spinoff thanks to a narrative that gives us ample time to get to know and invest in them.

Particularly compelling is one of the orphans, Janice (Talitha Bateman), who is riddled with polio and unable to walk properly, a fact utilised in one of the film’s best scenes in which she tries to escape the demonic doll by using a stair lift that mysteriously stops working.

Like the first two Conjuring movies, the main strength of this handsomely assembled horror is how they celebrate the idea of good old-fashioned scares that are on the surface quite simple — creaking floorboards, protracted movement down a dark hallway, a doll’s lifeless smile — but pulled off with a certain level of panache and reverence for the type of film that it is.

That means it’s not exactly breaking any new ground; you’ll undoubtedly find more innovative and nourishing horror cinema elsewhere. But as a straightforward, things-going-bump-in-the-night horror that nicely expands on the mythology, Annabelle: Creation does the job quite well indeed.