Annabelle: Creation Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia. Directed by David F. Sandberg. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
Judging by the audience reaction every time the title character appeared onscreen in Annabelle: Creation, the evil doll is well on her way to becoming a horror icon. She’s kind of an inert antagonist, though, which may be why Creation director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) and returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman use her more as a harbinger for other, more mobile demons who can scurry and skitter around the creepy old house where the movie is set.
Sandberg’s flair for creepy set pieces puts Creation slightly above 2014’s Annabelle, but it’s still pretty formulaic, with only occasional scary moments. A prequel to a spin-off (the doll originated in 2013’s The Conjuring), Creation has to work within some pretty narrow parameters, and Dauberman doesn’t find any new angles in the story of six orphan girls who move in with a reclusive couple who lost their young daughter 12 years earlier. Could that daughter’s name be … Annabelle?
Obviously it is, and much of the movie is just marking time until evil forces show up to wreak havoc. Sandberg knows how to jolt an audience well enough, and he has an assured visual style that builds up an atmosphere of dread. But without an engrossing story or interesting characters, that atmosphere doesn’t lead anywhere except to the next chapter in the increasingly lucrative Conjuring universe.