Ever since Marvel broke new ground and created the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every studio in Hollywood has wanted their version of the MCU. Warner Brothers got serious with their DC properties to create the DC Extended Universe, Fox has the X-Men Universe, and Universal Studios is attempting to create one with their 'Dark Universe.' In short, shared universes are the name of the game in Hollywood. When #TheConjuring came out in 2013 it didn’t appear to be anything more than just another ghost movie. But with the spin-off, #Annabelle, it appeared that the studio was willing to try to expand the potential franchise with solo outings.
While I loved both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, I, like so many others, was very disappointed by the first attempt to spin-off the series with Annabelle. The prospect of a continuing cinematic universe didn't excite me, even if there were no such universes to speak of for the #horror genre at the time. After The Conjuring 2 there were talks of spinoffs for 'The Nun' and 'Crooked Man,' along with another Annabelle movie. I remained doubtful that the spin-off films could live and breathe with the same energy as the masterful Conjuring films. Though now, the success of Annabelle: Creation has revived the hope that they could in two major ways:
1. Annabelle: Creation Builds Mythology
When the first Conjuring was released with a cold opening featuring Annabelle doll, I don't think the filmmakers knew how big of an impression that segment was going to make. Even if it wasn’t the main focus, the Annabelle doll was arguably the most memorable part of the movie.
Flash forward to the first Annabelle movie and the studio tried to cash in on the dolls popularity by showing what happened before The Conjuring. Although viewers were given a origin story, it felt somewhat rushed and the film raised more questions than answers about Annabelle's history.
Here in Annabelle: Creation, the Annabelle doll is given a fleshed out origin. It isn’t simply boiled down to two satanic cultists, there is actually a story involving a family, tragedy, and hopes for redemption that drives the demonic evil into the Annabelle doll. The story of Annabelle: Creation may cover familiar ground in terms of plot but as far as origin and mythology this is vastly richer than the first Annabelle.
The best thing about this movie is it isn’t a reboot or even really a retcon. Annabelle: Creation works with the thin material that the first Annabelle film provided. Then, it moves almost seamlessly into the events of the first film giving the original Annabelle a broader and stronger context. In this respect, Creation actually fine tunes the first film and improves it from a story perspective.
2. The Movie Is Actually Scary
The biggest sin of the first Annabelle was that it wasn’t scary. You could forgive almost any flaw of a horror film as long as it scares you and Annabelle: Creation takes advantage of this mindset. Annabelle: Creation’s biggest flaws are that it is clichéd and relies a bit too heavily on “the characters make dumb decisions” trope. However, that is forgiven because the movie delivers on the promise of being scary. The setups are familiar but the execution is what works.
#LightsOut director David F. Sandberg showed some great promise to be an effective horror director in his debut film and here he navigates the jump scares and atmosphere with an expert level of craftsmanship. As an audience, we know what Sandberg’s tricks are but he gets us anyways which is the sign of a talented filmmaker. Sandberg utilizes classic horror movie tropes, not to subvert them, but to demonstrate how to use them effectively. I have always made the argument that cliches aren't by definition a bad thing it all lies in the execution. Annabelle: Creation thrives on them but also knows how to execute those cliches. The first Annabelle was also cliched but it didn't have the same level of skill and thought behind the the production. Annabelle: Creation does not make this mistake.
An Optimism For A Shared Universe
Annabelle: Creation is flawed and doesn’t live up to the main series of The Conjuring, but it is a complete upgrade on the first outing of Annabelle in the two key most important areas. Annabelle: Creation adds mythology and remains scary and fun throughout its runtime. Lights Out director, David F. Sandberg, has done a bang up job at reviving interest in a bigger universe for the Conjuring films.
While Universal seems like it might drop the ball with its horror cinematic universe, Annabelle: Creation hints that the Conjuring franchise may be mature and strong enough to pick up the cinematic universe game and run with it.
Would you like to see more from the Conjuring extended universe?