Published Aug 09, 2017Swedish director David F. Sandberg made his first major splash last year with his feature-length directorial debut Lights Out, a horror film (based on an award-winning short he made three years prior) that used a simple character device (its creature could only stalk its subjects in the dark) to its advantage. The film was praised for its inventiveness; really, the only major critique from fans and critics alike was its length (a measly 81 minutes).
For his second full-length, he faces the shitty task of helping resuscitate the story of Annabelle, the demonic doll that first appeared in a dreadfully disappointing movie of the same name back in 2014. (The film, a spin-off/prequel to James Wan's supernatural horror sensation The Conjuring, would go on to gross almost 40 times its original budget worldwide, despite an initially lukewarm reaction to it from audiences and critics.) He mostly succeeds, crafting a spooky and sparse thriller that, although somewhat formulaic, offers plenty of chills.
Following the tragic death of their daughter 12 years prior, reclusive doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) decide to open up their home to a group of girls from a local orphanage, as well as the nun (Stephanie Sigman) tasked with taking care of them. Soon, a strange being begins toying with the house's inhabitants, and a bizarre ritual, originally employed to bring the couple's deceased daughter's spirit back from the dead, is revealed.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's happening in the home, nor to predict how certain parts of its setting — a draughty dumbwaiter; a locked door that's not to be opened; a chairlift that can only be controlled a certain way; and nooks and crannies galore — will come into play.
But that doesn't make the movie any less scary. Rather than repeat the same tricks as its predecessor, or reduce the action to Child's Play-like haunted toy tomfoolery, Sandberg makes the most of the weird, winding house (fully realized by production designer Jennifer Spence) and its remoteness in rural California to crank up the scares. Whether the girls are fighting for their lives under the floorboards, or racing towards the horizon, the film feels claustrophobic throughout.
Age also plays a big factor here, with Sandberg and screenwriter Gary Dauberman using Annabelle: Creation's young cast to make things extra creepy. Multiple scenes find the film's stars hiding under bed sheets or curled up in corners with their eyes closed, and it's hard not to imagine kids at slumber parties doing the same after seeing this. Irresponsible parents, beware.