Things children are meant to love have always been great horror fodder, but never more so than in recent years and coming months. We’ve got clowns (the terrifying-looking latest adaptation of It hits cinemas next month), pop-up books (quirky 2014 film The Babadook), toys (a new addition to the Childs Play series, Cult Of Chucky, is out in October) and – of course – dolls.
Chucky’s spiritual sister Annabelle returns this week in Annabelle: Creation, a prequel to 2014’s Annabelle, itself a prequel to 2013’s The Conjuring. Annabelle is a different breed of haunted toy to Chucky: no wisecracks, no sass, no walking around on her own, no moving lips, no comedy spin-offs (yet). In fact, it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that they’ve created, in Annabelle, a character that’s almost entirely inanimate. The doll isn’t so much the creature in the feature as a puppet for whatever evil is. In this case: a big, fuck-off demon.
In Annabelle: Creation, the title tells you exactly what you’re getting: the origin story. Of a doll. So we join former doll maker Samuel Mullins in an American Gothic farmstead, where he mooches around muttering gruffly and his wife Esther lies in bed, a porcelain mask covering half of her face. Still scarred by the death of their daughter 12 years ago, they welcome a nun and several young (and, oddly, not so young) girls from a nearby orphanage into their home, which would be a kind, philanthropic act were one of the rooms not haunted by a possessed, child-sized China doll.
Largely, it’s a horror film-by-numbers. Annabelle is awoken, the weakest girl is possessed, the girls are targeted and there are jump scares-aplenty. There is, as previously mentioned, a big old demon. But the makers of the Conjuring series, largely overseen by director/producer James Wan, are smart: these films are masterful horrors, formulaic and old fashioned, sure, but well made and creepy and damn good fun. With further films planned for The Conjuring 2’s demonic nun (The Nun, due 2018) and frankly terrifying Crooked Man (The Crooked Man, in development), it’s fast becoming a cinematic universe to rival that of Marvel’s, albeit with far more demonic possession. Not a bad thing.