Devilish dolls and mannequins are such vintage staples of horror movies that filmmakers have to come up with something unique to justify using them. On that score, “Annabelle: Creation” falls short. It has a decent portion of visceral scares but otherwise depends too much on predictable horror movie tricks.
“Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to “Annabelle” (2014), which was a spinoff of a two-film horror series that began with “The Conjuring” in 2013. Other spinoffs and sequels are in the works, and the whole enterprise has become known as the “Conjuring Universe.”
“Annabelle: Creation” begins with the accidental death in the 1940s of the beloved daughter of a doll maker (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto). Fast forward, and a busload of orphans — six girls, under the charge of a nun (Stephanie Sigman) — are being dropped off at the bereaved couple’s spacious country house, where the doll maker has offered them refuge.
The youngsters, who seem remarkably well-scrubbed and cheerful for orphans, are delighted with their new digs, even if they are forbidden to enter a mysterious locked room, where a creepy doll resides, and they must tread lightly so as not to disturb the bed-ridden mother of the dead girl.
You may be guessing they have entered a classic haunted house, or house of horrors, and you are correct. You are also right if you are guessing that glimpses of the deceased daughter will figure prominently in what follows.
The focus is on the two youngest orphans, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson), pals who have sworn to stick together no matter what. Spunky Janice is a polio victim, and you may be sure that she will drop her brace at crucial moments. She’s the first to enter the locked room, after which there is heck to pay, horror-movie style.
An amusing note: The house happens to have one of those mechanical chairs that moves on a track up and down stairs, perfect for Janice. The chair figures in one of the movie’s more intriguing sequences. The film also has a bit of fun with a scarecrow.
The director is David F. Sandberg, who made a better horror picture in 2016 called “Lights Out.” Give him credit for accomplishing as much as he has in “Annabelle: Creation” while working under the constraints of a sequel.
There are gotcha jolts that definitely got me, but for each of those, there must be a half-dozen scares telegraphed in large letters. “Annabelle: Creation” suffers from sequelitis.
Rated R for horror violence and terror. 1:49. AMC Classic, Fayette, Frankfort, Georgetown, hamburg, Nicholasville, Paris drive-in, Winchester.