I love the Capitol Theatre in Cleveland. I guess it’s because I’ve always read about how awesome it is to see throwback movies at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. The lobby is ancient and lacks the bright neon colors today’s plazas sport. The bathrooms show the almost 100 years of grime smashed into the tile where I imagine many films have been critiqued throughout the years. The seats are ok but I won’t lie…these recliner seats in the new theaters are just awesome.
And it seems like a perfect place to see a “period” horror movie like Annabelle: Creation. The crowd I was with enjoyed every last second of it (In fact, the terror started early with screams being emitted from the IT trailer.) but I was left wondering why I didn’t. It wasn’t a bad movie. The performances were generally good. In fact, the individual scenes mostly worked for me as well. It was just that the scenes did not stack up well into a film. They felt disjointed and the constant urge to scare the audience left me exhausted by the end.
If you aren’t familiar with the Conjuring universe, it’s ok. Annabelle: Creation stands alone for the most part. The movie tracks how exactly the doll that has terrified generations of people was created. Samuel and Esther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) were a happy couple and the proud parents of a young daughter. Due to a horrible accident, she is taken from them way too soon. In their grief, they prayed for her to return and something did. To take a physical place in this world, it asked to move into one of the dolls that Samuel made so well. After realizing that sometimes “Dead is better”, the Mullins bind the doll to a secret location. Many years later, they decide to repent by opening their home to 6 girls from a local orphanage. Immediately, it takes an interest in one of them (Talitha Bateman).
David F Sandberg is a helluva director. Right out of the gates, I was impressed with a beautiful winding shot that started at the top of a church and ended at ground level. His ability to hide horror in every scene (most of the time out in the open even!) is impressive and he is truly a fan of the genre.
However, his style (that works so well in short films like Lights Out) struggles when it reaches the big screen. There are “slow burn” horror movies and there are movies littered in jump scares. Sandberg’s style is neither. They are scene after scene of horror scares that can start to feel monotonous by the end. Horror is meant to build throughout the movie to one big release. Jump scares elicit that release prematurely and that’s why many horror fans feel cheated by them. Sandberg finishes every scene with a scare (at least that’s how it feels). While it sounds awesome, it is exhausting. The sense of fear dissipates when all the characters are separated and have survived 10 other scenes. If I had to define it in any term, it would be “tantric horror” but he hasn’t found the big finale yet.
Performance wise, everybody did their part. The Mullins were boring characters and not asked to do much but advance the plots (All the adults were.). It always scares me to ask children to lead a movie but the children here did great. Lulu Wilson stands out the most (and manages to conjure up a great impersonation of Haley Joel Osmond so much that I had to look up if they were related). Talitha Bateman is the keystone though and she is more than adequate in the role.
Individually, the scenes of A:C are memorable and fun. However, the movie felt like I was watching a bunch of YouTube videos back to back. I didn’t hate my time watching it. I just shouldn’t be tired of the same gags by the end. Of course, I may have been the outlier in the theater that night. They all seemed to enjoy. Why didn’t I?