“Annabelle: Creation” is the third cinematic outing for the demon-hosting doll of the title, after a guest spot on “The Conjuring” in 2013 and a star turn the next year in “Annabelle.” The narratives lurch backward, with each film acting as a prequel to its predecessor. Should this trend continue, we could very well see one of Annabelle’s ancestors causing catastrophic delays in the building of the pyramids.
For now, though, we’re in the 1940s as a doll maker and his wife (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) suffer the loss of their beloved daughter. A dozen years later, he’s a shuffling shell and she’s a disfigured recluse; so they open their rambling California farmhouse to a young nun and a clutch of orphaned girls. Wake up, Annabelle, your victims are here! Might I suggest you begin with the little one with the leg brace?
And so she does, terrorizing the youngsters in cheekily effective scenes while their host hovers ineffectually on the fringes and his wife cowers behind her bed curtains. Gary Dauberman’s script is lamentably light on mythological details (can the demon survive indefinitely outside the doll, or does it have a curfew?), but its vacuousness allows the director, David F. Sandberg, to string together jolts any way he pleases.
As with last year’s “Lights Out,” he proves a master of the flash-scare, a nifty choreographer of precipitous timing and striptease visuals. But he’s also adroit with more leisurely horrors, like the snap-crackle-pop of the murderous shade flexing for the kill, or the slow animation of a sacklike scarecrow into a toothy obscenity.
In this kind of horror movie, no one ever seems to hear you scream.
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