Plot: Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a master doll maker, but his family is his true passion, so when his young dies, he is devastated. He and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) do their best to move on, but he ceases his doll making business and even years later, he struggles to cope. Over a decade after her death, the couple opens their home to a nun and a group of orphans. Samuel has few rules, but he asks them to leave his late daughter’s room alone and to not bother his wife. Of course, the young orphans are curious and wind up going into the daughter’s room, where one of them discovers an eerie doll in the closet. But was there a reason Samuel locked the room and has the door being opened unleashed something into the house?

Entertainment Value: As much as I liked The Conjuring, spin-off Annabelle was a middle of the road horror movie, so I had about the same expectations for this prequel to the creepy doll flick. The narrative rewinds time and takes us back to the doll’s origins, so we get to see how Annabelle came to be infused with supernatural evil. I still wasn’t dazzled by this one, but I do think it was a step in the right direction and a better movie than Annabelle on all fronts. A lot of attention to detail is evident here, with little touches to pick up and a focus on scares, especially as the movie barrels toward the finale. The final act is like one horror set piece after another, which means a number of cheap scares, but also some effective ones. I liked how the demon was pretty much in every corner of the house, as it let bad things happen all the time, even if it did reach ridiculous levels at some points. In any case, the kinetic pace was appreciated and so were the chain reactions of scares, so at least Annabelle: Creation puts in the effort to provide a spooky ride. I still don’t think the doll itself is that creepy, but this prequel is a solid watch and earns a recommendation.

A good cast was assembled here, with young horror veteran Lulu Wilson as one of the standout performances. Her effort here is sincere and the dynamic with Talitha Eliana Bateman is one of the movie’s strong suits, even if the script doesn’t do as much with it as it should have. I have to think with more focus and development, these two could have carried the entire picture on their shoulders, but even as it stands, both are terrific here and elevate the movie. Anthony LaPaglia dials up his performance, but it makes sense and is fun to watch. The movie’s tone is serious and even dark, but there’s room for some over the top moments and LaPaglia delivers. I wish Miranda Otto had more do to here, but at least she gets some of the more memorable moments, which allows her to make the most of her appearances. I think the cast overall does well, but some potential is certainly left on the table here. The cast also includes Brand Greenquist, Grace Fulton, and Stephanie Sigman.

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