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‘Annabelle: Creation’ mostly rattles off horror-movie cliches

I don’t watch a lot of horror movies. Nothing against them, it’s just that anything haunted, possessed or psycho-killer-y rarely holds my interest.

Having said that, given the choice between reviewing “The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature,” a sequel to a movie I didn’t see that screened on a Saturday morning with a bunch of noisy kids, or “Annabelle: Creation,” a prequel to a spinoff of two movies I didn’t see that screened at a reasonable hour, well, the creepy doll movie wins every time.

Although there was still at least one crying baby at the R-rated horror show, because people are awful.

“Annabelle: Creation,” focusing once again on the doll introduced in 2013’s “The Conjuring,” opens in the 1940s with toymaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) in his workshop. He puts the first of a limited-edition doll in its box before walking home to his loving wife, Esther (Miranda Otto), and beautiful daughter, Bee (Samara Lee). After moviegoers get to know them a bit thanks to a disturbing game of hide-and-seek, Bee dies in an accident.

Cut to 12 years later, and Mr. Mullins and his now-bedridden wife have invited six orphaned girls and a young nun to live with them, which seems like a perfectly natural thing to do.

Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) gets her own room. The four older girls — Carol (Grace Fulton), Nancy (Philippa Coulthard), Kate (Tayler Buck) and Tierney (Lou Lou Safran) — snag one that’s the equivalent of a palatial suite. That leaves the polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her best friend, Linda (Lulu Wilson), to share a bunk bed in a spare room surrounded by doll parts.

There are heaping helpings of Catholic guilt in “Annabelle: Creation.” Janice utters a “Forgive me, Father” before opening the door to Bee’s room, which she was warned against. That’s where she discovers Annabelle in a locked closet. The next morning, she confesses her sin to Sister Charlotte.

For the most part, though, things play out like horror-movie bingo: Doors creak open and slam shut, lights flicker, violins screech, and despite seeing some freaky things that would cause any sane person to leave that house for good, Janice keeps returning to Bee’s room, because that’s what you do in a horror movie.

One night, as a body bag is being taken out of the Mullinses’ home, Sister Charlotte — which, the more I type it, sounds like a good name for a rock band — announces, “Go get ready for bed, girls.” Because that’s also what you do in a horror movie.

The only character with a lick of common sense is Linda, the youngest. Seeing something malevolent, Sister Charlotte asks, “What is that?” Linda’s response: “Who cares? Run!”

Director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”) and writer Gary Dauberman (“Annabelle”) deliver a couple of legitimately creative scares as well as some authentically haunting imagery, and the period setting offers a nice change of pace.

As the guy sitting behind me said of the house’s dumbwaiter during his running commentary, “That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” It’s a good thing he didn’t live in the 19th century, or he’d have died of fright.

Speaking of crowd noise, every time Annabelle turned up on screen, most of the audience let out full-throated screams. The movie is literally about a possessed doll. Her name’s in the title. You know she’s going to be there. It made as much sense as blowing out a lung by yelling every time an engine roars in a “Fast and Furious” movie.

“Annabelle: Creation” clocks in at an hour and 49 minutes, including two post-credits scenes, yet I’ve seen more unsettling content in the opening montage of a typical season of “American Horror Story.”

Maybe I haven’t seen enough bad horror movies to appreciate “Annabelle: Creation.” But I just didn’t get what all the screaming was about.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

 

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