Since the early noughties, James Wan has revitalized the horror genre by creating some of the highest-grossing franchises such as Saw and Insidious. His recent horror franchise, The Conjuring, has earned over $970 million worldwide. For those who are unfamiliar with The Conjuring, the series is loosely based on the lives of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, who claimed to have investigated infamous paranormal cases such as the Amityville Horror, the Enfield Poltergeist and the demonic possession of a doll named Annabelle. Although Annabelle appeared as a minor character in the two Conjuring films, the lifeless yet creepy antagonist has certainly made a huge impression which led her to star in her own spin-off in 2014. Now Wan (as producer) and indie director David F. Sandberg expands further into the story by exploring the origins of the doll in this year’s Annabelle: Creation.

Twelve years after the death of their daughter, toy maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) invites a nun named Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and a group of orphaned girls to live in their house. The characters are haunted by a strange presence after the protagonist Janice (Talitha Bateman), one of the orphans who suffers from polio, discovers the sinister Annabelle doll (created by Samuel) in a closet and unknowingly releases the demon. When Janice becomes possessed by the demon, her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) immediately notices the changes in her behaviour, leaving her petrified.

Like his previous film Lights Out, Sandberg experiments with light and shadows to enhance the tension and suspense without revealing too much of the demon’s appearance. In a memorable sequence, the girls are asleep in the bedroom except for Carol (Grace Fulton) and Nancy (Philippa Coulthard), who are sitting inside a bedsheet tent with their torches lighting their faces in close-ups. While they crack jokes about supernatural beings, they hear a bell ring from Esther, who needs assistance as she never leaves her room. The torches suddenly switch off, leaving the girls in the dark and they see a silhouette of a mysterious figure walking towards the tent. Sandberg’s technique also created fascinating shots of Annabelle in the dark closet throughout the film. The light mainly focuses on her face which highlights her menacing beady eyes that are glaring at the characters and the audience.

As a long-time horror fan, I noticed a few moments that bears a resemblance to other horror films: the plot shares similarities to 2013’s Curse of Chucky as the film also focuses on a disabled girl who is terrorized by an evil, possessed doll and the sequence where the demon attempts to drag Linda into a well is reminiscent to 2002’s The Ring. There is even a scene where a character is crucified to a wall, which immediately reminded me of Margaret White’s death in 1976’s Carrie.

In terms of the actors, I was very impressed by the remarkable performances from Bateman and Wilson as the two protagonists. Their chemistry together makes you root for them and their close friendship is very endearing to watch, especially in moments where they talk about being adopted by the same family so they could be sisters and Linda’s support for Janice as she struggles to walk due to her polio.

Annabelle: Creation is another brilliant entry from James Wan’s The Conjuring franchise, combining frightening scenes with a perfectly executed backstory of the doll. In addition to that, Sandberg’s use of light and shadows, along with smooth tracking shots, eerie out-of-focus movements and a whole load of jump scares is a huge improvement to the original spin-off from 2014. After seeing this film, I am very much looking forward to the next Conjuring sequel, followed by the spin-offs The Nun and The Crooked Man.