The Conjuring was a big deal to me when I first saw it. For the rest of that day I kept talking about it to anyone who would listen. Annabelle was a disappointment, cheaply knocking off other films, showcasing a range of characters who did not know how to act intelligently, and drawing viewers into a mean-spirited and nasty atmosphere that threatened to suffocate. The Conjuring 2 was a well-made, intelligent, and suitably spooky concoction that was burdened with an overstretched length and a somewhat confused climax.
Where does Annabelle: Creation stand? It depends on how you look at it. All these spin-off films are made because Warner Bros. and partners see that there is an audience out there for them and wish to make a profit. Annabelle: Creation has certain characteristics that bear quite a resemblance to previous entries (an obsession with terrifying adolescent girls, period setting, hidden alcoves and scary basements, and a game that is used to manipulate people into following a bread-crumb trail, just to name a few), yet knows how to handle things with skill, craft, attention, and respect. In this way, it's like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The films in it can get old after a while, but it's hard to deny that they do what they set out to do, and they do it well. There may be individual parts that change to help put up the appearance of "variety" and may hint at greater depths, but at heart its all still the same. If you approach Annabelle: Creation in this way, then you're more than likely all ready to criticize it before you even enter the theater. You're not in a position to be swept up into it, and the movie isn't going to do enough to catch you off guard and win you over.
However, it must be said that for a movie that is okay with repeating things from the past, the fourth film (and earliest chronologically) in this series at times can be quite a doozy. And I do mean that in a good way. Some parts of the series might be based on real events as advertised with the main, non-spin-off films, but this is the first movie where I found that it no longer matters to me. At times these films border on fantasy, what with weird devices like teleportation being possible, but they are done in a way that enhances the experience, intensifying the moment, instead of calling so much negative attention to themselves that people just want to throw popcorn at the screen. They are done to affect the audience, not as plot gimmicks to advance the story along, or as signs of lazy writing. Annabelle: Creation is the first in the franchise to recognize any hints of absurdity and use it to its advantage, making for a film that is possibly the most intense entry so far. The absurdities are used to racket up more scares a minute, but they are almost all effective due to decent set-ups and ideas to redo some of the same scenarios over again in different simple variations of the same freak-outs.
That's the thing: the filmmakers keep it simple. The Conjuring 2 eventually got tangled in its own logic by trying to add layers onto something that not necessarily should have been more complex. These movies aren't meant to do good by inserting mysteries revolving around betrayal and motives or with adding so much mystery or mythology around a creature that it appears to be all-powerful. Instead of variations on a few notes, they could build the scares on top of each other, but the variations here are so well-done that they appear to build on each other even when it is just the same thing played over again in a different environment with new faces. I say this because I am impressed by how well it managed to work. Lesser movies would fall flat on their faces or appear conspicuously empty and meaningless if they tried this.
Annabelle: Creation at times feels like it gets close to crossing over the line that the first Annabelle sprinted over and make something that is unoriginal and ugly to experience. There is even a moment where I became nervous that the movie was going to replicate the awful time I had watching Messengers 2: The Scarecrow. Instead it becomes one of the few unnecessary gimmicks that doesn't point at itself, pretending to be organic, but still manages to be noticeable and show that the writers are running out of ideas. Even if these kind of moments don't completely work, they still function quite well into instilling fear into cinemagoers. The tale and scares are told with such ferocity that the simple fact that it's all done with taste won me over.
The new movie in The Conjuring Universe is no classic and has next to no originality. It doesn't make you think, it is not all the way thought-out, and it doesn't care to extend itself far from what it needs to. But what Annabelle: Creation does do is meet expectations and do it with heart. What it lacks in ideas it makes up for with what it decides to do with the few it has. It supplies characters with little to no depth and that resemble some of those you have seen in other films, but it treats most of them with enough respect and attention that you like them anyway. Beside from making money, its other goals are to scare you, thrill you, and please fans of the franchise. It succeeds in this, and you come away from the film feeling your money was well-spent. You didn't grow as a person, but that wasn't what you came to the movie for in the first place.
Of the four films so far, this is the third-best in the way it is constructed. It is the second-most satisfying, probably because the first Annabelle set the bar low and this new film has no pretensions in what it is trying to be. It fits into this Universe quite nice and snugly and even manages to make some things in the first Annabelle more easy to understand. I recommend Annabelle: Creation to any that are interested in seeing it, and I wait to see if the film being released next year, The Nun, is worthy enough to be noticed in a positive way as well.
My rating: 3 3/4 /5