After Marvel successfully made it, DC tried it, then, the Dark Universe tried it, and now The Conjuring is trying it. Of course, I’m talking about the ever-so-popular cinematic universe. The series of films that studios want more than a franchise, the money machines that power studios to fame, but the thing that sacrifices the now for the future.
We’ve seen it with the DCEU, we’ve seen it with the Dark Universe, but surprisingly, The Conjuring universe is shaping up to be, at least, a decent horror universe. That surely wasn’t the case when Annabelle first came along, as I wasn’t very convinced that a universe surrounding Ed and Lorraine Warren could work. However, Annabelle: Creation defies all odds and serves as a solid start to what could be a very promising universe.
Toy maker Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and wife Esther Mullins (Mirando Otto) are welcoming a group of orphans to their home after the tragic death of their daughter Annabelle (Samara Lee). When Janice (Talitha Bateman), one of the orphans, snoops into Annabelle’s room, she uncovers that the Mullins’ daughter is very well alive, or is she?
A Universe Worth Investing In
Just like both Conjuring movies, Annabelle: Creation offer some well-rounded and interesting character drama. The orphans, Janice and Linda (Lulu Wilson), are extremely likable from the get-go. Even when they are stupidly curious, like most people in horror movies, they have their own issues and drama that make them feel like real children.
Their acting abilities help as well, and while we shouldn’t be surprised by Wilson (see her performance in Ouija: Origin Of Evil), Bateman successfully governs what is a tricky performance as the film’s main character. These two work well together, and it shows through their sister relationship, which feels genuine and gives the audience a reason to root for these girls.
Although not as developed as the orphans, the Mullins offers a sense of mystery throughout the film. After the death of their child, they haven’t been the same. Mr. Mullins takes care of his bedridden wife for reasons that only become apparent at the end of the film. The mystery surrounding this couple is fairly interesting, and it gives way to scary bedtime stories told by the teenage orphans. Throughout Annabelle: Creation, it’s the character-driven storytelling that makes what’s on screen scary and suspenseful.
As well rounded as they are, these characters fit well into The Conjuring universe that James Wan is presently conjuring up. From the filmmaking to the practical effects to the tie-ins, Annabelle: Creation is the first spin-off to acknowledge previous movies and movies to come. That’s right, keep your eyes on the watch for fun Easter eggs and tie-ins.
Timing And Sound Are Everything
Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, once famously said – ”There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two.” Yet, Annabelle: Creation doesn’t confuse the two. There are ”surprise” scares in the beginning which are played for false scares, as they should be. With these types of scares, the filmmakers are not trying to scare you, but are easing you into what is coming later.
During the second half of the film, director David F. Sandberg then carefully builds suspense, and even though most of his buildup finishes with a scare, he messes with the timing just enough to keep you on edge. Sandberg does this really well, choosing the right camera angle to show something off-putting or even using a popular camera trick in order to make you believe something will happen, when in reality, it doesn’t. He plays with horror filmmaking tropes so well that even your know-it-all horror buffs are going to be surprised.
Annabelle: Creation is at its best when it does indeed utilize its top-notch sound design. Throughout, it uses sound to control the audience’s emotions while still maintaining a certain tension and creepy atmosphere. The creaking doors, the thumps in the night, and rumbles are all tropes of horror films, yet they manage to be effective only because of their timing and overall design. William R. Dean is the film’s sound designer and he is a crucial part of why this prequel succeeds.
The James Wan Effect
Horror movies have certainly changed as of late. You see a push-back to suspense and craftsmanship, but there’s also a sameness to its look and feel. This is what I call ”The James Wan Effect.” While it has recovered the craftsmanship of horror films in the 2010s like Psycho did famously in the 1960s, James Wan‘s original style isn’t so original anymore. With fame comes copycats, and Wan has his fair share of his.
At first, his horrifying formula was something new that modern horror fans had not seen before. Now, it’s becoming more prevalent not only in The Conjuring universe but outside as well, with movies like Ouija: Origin Of Evil and Lights Out. Annabelle: Creation follows suit with the others and unfortunately, the formula is growing a bit old. There is a sense of déjà vu with many of the overall looks of the film, including the demon’s design (very Insidious-like) as well as the old 1950s house.
Fortunately, ”The James Wan Effect” is not all bad. A lot of the recent horror movies have found a way to bring back old-school horror filmmaking that was lost during the early 2000s. The way Wan meticulously build up suspense before delivering the scare is influenced by great horror directors. Instead of trying to scare with a loud bang that sucks the tension right out, which had become the norm for some time, he has found a style that appeals to mainstream horror fans that have been accustomed to that loud bang as well as critics who prefer the craft of the genre. All this appeal and art has no doubt inspired modern horror filmmakers like Mike Flanagan and David F. Sandberg to create high-brow horror films, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that.
Annabelle: Creation: Conclusion
Annabelle: Creation may be tugging too much on the James Wan formula, but the excellent craftsmanship and engaging character drama make it a solid entry into The Conjuring universe. As far as universes go, The Conjuring is solid, even more when compared to the Dark Universe. Sandberg has crafted a scary little prequel that is no doubt better than its predecessor, and while Creation may ponder back to the excellence of 2014’s The Conjuring, it at least offers potential, something Annabelle was unable to solidify.
What do you think of The Conjuring universe so far? Are you tired of The James Wan Effect?
Annabelle: Creation was released on August 11 in the US and UK. For more release dates, click here.