Raggedy Ann doll begets horror franchise with Annabelle

Annabelle: Creation. Directed by David Sandberg. Starring Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto. Rating: 6 (out of 10)

I should preface this review by saying that it takes a lot to scare me, where dolls are concerned.

I still own a Fisher Price “Baby Ann” doll, all saggy body and rock-hard head, omnipotent Mona Lisa smile and hair that has been sticking straight up for decades; she has perturbed many a visitor to my home. I have an angry, amber-eyed koala made with real animal fur, too. But nothing tops the awful sight of my Raggedy Ann doll after a few too many years in storage: when I opened the box, vermin had left her three-foot body intact but eaten her black button eyes, leaving fluffy sockets where her eyes should be.

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It’s no surprise to me, then, that a haunted Raggedy Ann doll was the real-life inspiration for Annabelle, who made her first appearance in 2013’s The Conjuring, had a somewhat disappointing solo effort the following year, but gets a fairly satisfying origin story here in Annabelle: Creation.

A few years after the sudden death of their beloved seven-year-old daughter, a still-grieving toymaker and his wife (Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia) welcome six orphaned girls into their country home, along with Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), who cares for them. Esther Mullins is confined to her bed, incapacitated by her grief; Sam, a former toymaker, is prone to gruff outbursts and warns the girls not to go near the locked room upstairs.

Naturally, locked doors are an open invitation for curious orphans, and little girls are perhaps the wrong choice when there is a haunted doll in the house. The most vulnerable youngster is Janice (Talitha Bateman) who has polio and walks with a leg brace, relying on a motorized chair to get her up and down stairs. Janice and her friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) are banished from the older girls’ bedroom and share a room all to themselves. Still, Janice spends a lot of time exploring the house on her own while the other girls are outside. She comes upon the Mullins’ daughter’s bedroom, carefully preserved, as well as a garish porcelain doll in the cupboard. The doll is creepy enough for Janice to leave it alone, but it pops up in the oddest of places. Soon Janice’s health appears to go into a decline, and woe betide anyone who gets close enough to try and suss out the source of the problem.

Screenwriter Gary Dauberman improves on his first Annabelle script, though the pacing is uneven and key characters like the Mullins are given little to do. Religious tie-ins are feeble, despite the core evil-versus-innocence storyline and the biblical title. Perhaps filmmakers are holding their best Catholic hand for The Nun, another Conjuring spinoff slated for next year?

Filmmakers had to reach for that “R” rating: a little less blood and a PG rating might have ushered in more younger viewers (most cast members are young teens) but may have dissuaded die-hard horror fans. The sources of the scares are all over the place but come fast-and-furious-enough to keep us guessing; you’re sure to jump more than once as you search the shadows for movement. Verdict? Moderately scary, but still not as terrifying as my eye-socket Raggedy Ann.

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