Annabelle: Creation

★ ★ ★

She doesn’t have much emotional range—her motions are largely confined to opening and closing her eyes—but the films she appeared in have grossed over $1 billion at the box office. She’s Annabelle, devil dolly, and she’s back to prove that you can’t keep a good doll down.

“Annabelle: Creation” is a second prequel to “The Conjuring”—following 2014’s “Annabelle”—to tell the story of the creepy, possessed doll before she was safely locked away in ghost hunter Ed and Lorraine Warren’s cabinet of curiosities. The first prequel, set in the 1960s, saw the creepy antique doll cause havoc in the lives of a pregnant woman and her husband.

This time around it’s an origin of evil story digging into why and how the child’s toy became so disturbed and disturbing. The preamble takes us back to the 1940s when kind-hearted dollmaker Mr. Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto) witness their daughter Annabelle killed in a terrible—and rather dramatically filmed—accident.

Cut to twelve years later. The once kindly couple are now shells of their former selves, still wracked with grief over the loss of his daughter. Their rambling Californian house, once alive with activity is now a cobwebbed mausoleum. When a nearby orphanage shuts down the couple welcome six residents and their nun custodian Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) into their home. They both get something from the deal. Mr. and Mrs. Mullins hope the orphans will inject some soul into their lifeless home.

On the upside the young tenants have a place to live, a TV and a radio. “It's as big as a castle,” they gush. “I guess that makes us princesses!” On the downside their high-spirited ways bring out the doll's evil spirits.

“Annabelle: Creation” is a less-is-more horror movie. The scares are bare boned, small moments—a shadowy figure here, a slamming door there—that add up to an atmosphere of dread. Add in Linda (Lulu Wilson), a little demon battling girl with creepy, concerned eyes and a handful of good lines like, “Forgive me father for I am about to sin,” make an impression but everything else feels too tastefully restrained.

In movie math demons plus little kids equals “The Exorcist” but “Annabelle: Creation” isn’t so much scary as it is weird. Those looking for overt terror à la William Friedkin’s masterpiece will be disappointed.

Director David F. Sandberg—whose horror bona fides were well established after “Lights Out”—is unafraid to take his time and creating the dread. Except for a few frights near the end, unfortunately, audiences may leave the theatre feeling the same way, unafraid.

3 STARS