David F Sandberg

Annabelle: Creation

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A couple lost their young daughter in a tragic accident. Years later they decide to invite a nun and a group of orphaned girls to live with them after their orphanage closed down. An evil trapped within the house awakens and now it’s after the soul of one of the girls. The strange supernatural occurrences get worse with each passing day, threatening the lives of all who live in the house. It is up to the girls to try and defeat what could be the Devil himself.

After the less than well received Annabelle prequel of 2014, New Line Cinema decided to attempt a prequel to the prequel. They brought on Gary Dauberman, who also wrote the first Annabelle film, and director David F. Sandberg of Lights Out fame. These two manage to create a film worthy of being apart of The Conjuring universe. Bringing Sandberg in to direct was a great decision by the production company. Even though Annabelle: Creation is only his second feature length film, Sandberg has proven that he is a skilled horror storyteller who knows how to scare audiences. He expertly uses light and shadows to his advantage to not only bring exciting jump scares, but he also relies heavily on creating an unsettling atmosphere with more subtle spine-chilling scares. He also sets up scares in a very long, drawn out way that builds anticipation. You keep expecting the scare to come, but then it doesn’t until you are caught off guard again. Sandberg has already improved his skills since Lights Out, his first feature film, so I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Bringing Dauderman on to write again was probably the best decision for this film. He has a clear understanding of the mythology created both in The Conjuring and in Annabelle. One of my biggest concerns going into Annabelle: Creation was how they were going to connect it to the first Annabelle film. I was almost expecting them to do what the latest Resident Evil film did and create an entirely new origin story, ignoring the previous film. Dauberman connects the two films in such a seamless manner. It is even more flawless than I could have imagined. On top of that, Dauberman creates a cast of compelling characters, each with their own fears that “Annabelle” tries to exploit. You care about each character, especially young Janice, who is recovering from polio. Caring about the characters makes the demonic presence all the more terrifying.

Having compelling characters would mean nothing if not for the actors who play them. While there are many characters, all of whom are important to the plot, it seems that there are two main characters of this film. Talitha Bateman (The 5th Wave, The Hive) plays Janice. Janice is a young orphan who is recovering from polio and has to use a crutch to get around. She suffers the most from the demon since she is the weak link of the orphan girls. Bateman is a new young talent and she absolutely shines in this role. From innocent girl trying to be strong for her friend to possessed by evil, Bateman shows range in her performance and I find myself completely enthralled by her. Lulu Wilson (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Deliver Us From Evil) also gives a stunning performance as Janice’s best friend, Linda. While Wilson excels in this role, I found her to be a bit of a distraction. She had just been in Ouija: Origin of Evil last year, and not only was this another horror prequel but it was set in a similar time (although I think chronologically Annabelle: Creation is earlier). Wilson is great as Linda, but I can’t stop thinking of her as Doris, especially since that film isn’t even a year old. The entire cast does a great job, making each character enjoyable to watch.

In keeping with other films in The Conjuring universe, Annabelle: Creation relies almost entirely on practical effects. Primarily the effects are to make the deceased daughter look unsettling. There is one scene where the makeup done on the girl goes a bit over the top, combined with her line of dialogue, to make it much more funny than scary. Aside from that, the effects are very well done, especially with the demon. While the demon is kept mostly in the shadow, which makes it even more disturbing, they keep its look simple and iconic. Often times what you don’t see is even more terrifying than what you can see, and Annabelle: Creation is a perfect example of that.

I went into Annabelle: Creation somewhat guarded and with low expectations. I came out of the theater with a partially numb arm from crouching awkwardly in fear. Annabelle: Creation is the most frightening film of 2017, so far, and it renews my faith in The Conjuring spin-off films. There are a couple scares that come across more funny than frightening, and I found the casting of Wilson to be rather distracting, but overall I am very pleased with this film. It is exceptionally well acted, has great scares, and perfectly connects to the films that came before it. Annabelle: Creation truly exceeds my expectations. Be sure to keep an eye out for a couple fun Easter eggs in this film, as well as a mid and post credit scene that you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Lights Out

When Rebecca was young her father walked out and her unstable mother spiraled into a deep depression. Soon after, something began to lurk in the dark. Now, after the mysterious death of her stepfather, the same thing is happening to Rebecca’s younger half-brother, Martin. Some evil entity is attached to their mother and the more unstable she becomes the stronger the evil gets. Now the family has a real reason to fear the dark.

If you haven’t seen the short film that spawned this horror flick, stop right now and watch it first (click here to view). Now that you’ve done that, let’s talk about the feature length Lights Out. We have seen many films in the past that deal with some kind of evil supernatural being that can only be in the dark. Once the light hits it, the evil either disappears or is hurt by the light. Even though it is something we have seen time and time again, Lights Out is probably one of the better versions of this idea. The evil known as Diana is attached to Sophie, who is Rebecca and Martin’s mother. Every time Sophie’s mental state relapses, Diana gets stronger and tries to convince Sophie she is her friend. Diana tried to get Sophie to stay in the dark with all the lights out because that is the only way Diana can exist. She disappears whenever the lights come on. There are only a couple things that bother me about the story. The biggest theme is that there are unanswered questions such as what kinds of light could get rid of Diana, how Diana ended up attached to Sophie after she died, and other smaller questions.

There are two aspects of this film that made it stand out. The first is that the director of the short film also directed the feature length film. For his first time directing a feature length film, David F. Sandberg does an excellent job. You can clearly see the influence of James Wan, who produced the film, in the style and scares. The second aspect is the plot. It seemed very much to be a metaphor for mental illness and how it not only affects the one with the illness, but it also affects everyone around them. When Sophie gets worse and Diana appears, it spirals Sophie into the dark (literally) while also greatly affecting her children. Diana is basically the physical embodiment of Sophie’s mental illness.

As it says in the trailer, everyone is afraid of the dark. As children we believe that there is always something waiting for us in the dark, whether it be in the closet or under the bed. That is why this relatively simple plot, and others like it, are so terrifying. It taps into the simplest of fears in a very effective way. Because the idea of fearing what’s in the dark is so simple, it makes sense that this film also went for simpler scares. The times that are the scariest usually consist of a good jump scare. Overuse of jump scares usually bother me or seem lazy, but in this film it works because of the concept and the fact that it is a PG-13 film. Along with the simple scares, the filmmakers go for a simple look when it comes to Diana. She is mostly just a creepy, black figure in the shadows with scraggly hair, long pointed fingers, and sometimes glowing eyes. There is one scene in the film where you see more of Diana and I really wish they hadn’t shown so much of her. Her look out of the darkness is nowhere near as terrifying, so it makes Diana less terrifying at a pivotal point in the film. This is a mistake I see time and time again in horror films. Just remember, less is more.

Lights Out has a great cast of characters that are very well developed. You actually care about the people in the story – a film is always scarier when you care about the characters. Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) is excellent as Rebecca. What made her acting, and her character, so compelling is that she is clearly damaged from her childhood, but when her little brother is in trouble her strength comes out. Martin, the younger brother, is played by Gabriel Bateman (Annabelle). His performance is great, but he tended to do this face that is halfway between a snarl and a concentration-type face. It is a bit distracting, but he still does a perfectly good job. I am surprised by Maria Bello (A History of Violence) as the mother, Sophie. Her portrayal of Sophie’s instability is amazing and sad all at once.

This is a creepy film. Lights Out is a simply scary story that will have you sleeping with the light on. It isn’t the most intricate plot, but you have to take it for what it is. This is a PG-13 film, which means they want younger audiences to be able to enjoy the film as well, with a first time feature length film director. It has lots of great jump scares and great acting. I believe the film will still be exciting even after the novelty of the jump scares has worn off. With the exception of a few issues I have with the plot and the fact that I believe Diana should never have been shown out of the shadows, I really enjoyed this film. Lights Out is something that most horror fans can enjoy if they take it for what it is; a fun, scary ghost story.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10