‘Annabelle: Creation’ tells the origin story of that creepy-as-hell doll (Movie review)

For about $370, you can get an Annabelle doll from Mezco Toys, and unlike most movie memorabilia, this piece won’t just sit around and collect dust. If it’s anything like the real deal, it’ll move around your house, offering daily surprises and laughs.

As with 2014’s “Conjuring” series spinoff “Annabelle,” that’s the conceit of its prequel, “Annabelle: Creation,” which is now available via Redbox and streaming. How much you laugh and how much you flinch in terror will depend on your mindset for this type of movie, but it is entertaining enough, and probably better than the original, which I have watched but don’t remember any details of.

We venture back to 1950s Middle America and find a couple – dollmaker Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther (Miranda Otto) Mullins – in their 12th year of mourning their daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), who was killed in a car accident. They open their house to a girls orphanage led by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), as Esther hopes to get an emotional boost from the sounds of activity in their large and grim house – where it seems the dutiful but dour Samuel casts an extra-large shadow.

Director David F. Sandberg showed deft horror chops with “Lights Out,” a web short in 2013 that was stretched into a film in 2016. That film had a clever idea at its core: The villain is only visible when the lights are out.

“Creation” doesn’t have such a distinct hook, but it does live up to its title and tells the backstory of the possessed doll. It also leaves room for an even-further-back prequel; indeed, it might be neat if each new “Annabelle” entry is a prequel to the previous one. Written by Gary Dauberman, it’s like a buffet of familiar horror set-ups and happenings.

As the girls tour the Mullins abode, which is like a mansion by their standards, Dauberman leaves no box unchecked as he creates this creepy house. There’s a chair lift, which polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Bateman) must use; we just know its snails’ pace will come back to bite her later in the movie. There’s a dumbwaiter with a door that opens on its own. There’s a bedroom Samuel forbids the girls from entering. There’s a closet under the stairs with dark shadows in the corner. And there’s a barn with a scarecrow that would give Batman the willies.

Dauberman’s creation of the environment is better than his creation of characters. It came out first, but “Creation” now pales in comparison to this fall’s “Exorcist” Season 2, which is also about a foster home and a possession. Being a TV show, it allows us to get to know all the foster kids.

That’s not the case in “Creation,” which features six orphan girls, but only develops two of them: Janice and Linda (Lulu Wilson). While the other four girls claim the big bedroom, these two outcast friends bunk together in Samuel’s former doll-making room. They promise they’ll stick together – a two-for-one deal if prospective parents want one of them.

While the trappings are familiar and most of the characters don’t pop, Dauberman does a nice job of peppering a lot of mysteries into the story: Why does Esther wear a mask and never emerge from her bedroom? OK, so the doll is certainly possessed, but is the scarecrow also? And who is that unknown nun in the old photograph?

“Creation” delivers several creepy moments and holds your attention with its mysteries, and Janice and Linda are a fairly likable pair. It’s an entertaining couple of hours, and fans of the series might like how it slots into place. But for a casual horror fan, “Annabelle: Creation” is just one of dozens of films from the past 20 years with very similar concepts, plots and scare tactics.