X-men First Class, Temple of Doom, Annabelle: Creation have at least one thing in common--they are among the few rare prequels which surpass their predecessors. In rarer form, Creation is a prequel of a prequel and has no business to be half way decent, yet it is. Here is the fourth installment into The Conjuring universe. For the first time this is a film which simultaneously feels like a branch of that universe and stands up on its own. David F. Sandberg’s direction, Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography, and the work of the sound department give Annabelle: Creation a breath of death the series needed.
Sandberg hones the skills he presented in his short films. As a fan of Sandberg's shorts (especially Lights Out) it is clear he pulled from his experience with those and applied them to Creation. Elements from Lights Out (short), partnered with Coffer, come up throughout this film. Tension is present throughout the movie by use of long takes (when the girls arrive at their new home), scary nighttime scenes that last longer than most movie scenes of the same type (the scene with the chair moving up the steps), and by not providing a jump when expected (the look between the bunkbeds). Sandberg utilizes the tension and expectations to elevate his short films through his directing accompanied with the cinematography.
Maxime Alexandre, the Director of Photography, uses the time period and setting to create an eerie landscape. Where Annabelle failed to look and feel like the era it was representing, Creation delivers. Dustiness from the rural landscape outside rolls into the house, giving the bluish tones a graininess that draws the viewer. That blueness, specifically at night, contrasts well with the yellow tint present with the daytime and the farmland. These contrasting tones aid the scares by playing with the audience's expectations. It is impressive when a movie can provide scares during daylight scenes, which Creation does thanks to Alexandre's style. In these aspects, this film emulates The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, making it feel like a part of the universe without piggybacking. Alexandre's classic vertigo-inducing dolly zooms and sharpness fleshes out the setting and aids the sound department to create an overall intensity.
Crisp, for lack of a better word, is the best way to describe the sound of this movie. Every tight creak of the hardwood floors is audible and clear. Parts of the film have no sound. Silence is utilized to again play with expectations and cause anxiety. Creaks and the silence work together well to help provide tension by drawing out the scenes and allowing the audience to hold their breath along with the characters.
Annabelle: Creation isn't without flaws. Where most haunted house movies ease into the scares and let the viewer question the character's sanity, this movie lacks the subtlety. The demon presents itself quickly and sets its intentions on the table straight away. For some, that may work because it jumps right in. But for others it may be too quick. Another lacking point for the film is the characters. There are too many of them. Yes, it's an orphanage, and yes, they need several girls to make that realistic, but there are at least two characters who have almost no screen time and are useless outside of filling up spaces on a bus. There are other aspects that don't work well, but the last one worth mentioning is toward the end of the movie. For the first time the demon pops up in two places at once. Simultaneously it is in the barn, which is a cool, creepy scene, and in the house in dumbwaiter, which feels predictable boring. This is frustrating because it only happens on this one occasion and is never an established thing the demon can do. It feels cheap and unnecessary.
Outside of the few flaws mentioned, Annabelle: Creation is an enjoyable movie. It provides scares throughout by building up tension and playing with expectations. Sound design, cinematography, and direction are the key components that make this film work well. With a subtle nod to Valak, a more focused story than its sequel, and an elegant tie in to its sequel as well, Annabelle: Creation is a fun, scary flick and a must see for fans of The Conjuring universe.