“Annabelle: Cre­ation” is scary good

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Michael O'Sul­li­van

★★★5 Rated R. 109 min­utes.

If we have learned any­thing from the Cook­ing Channel, it’s that tal­ent isn’t de­fined by the in­gre­di­ents you use but what you do with them. By that mea­sure, di­rec­tor David F. Sand­berg is an al­chemist of the first or­der, tak­ing the base — even leaden — com­po­nents of horror and whip­ping them into a shiv­ery chif­fon of dread.

The Swedish film­maker did it with his de­but fea­ture, “Lights Out,” which milked a de­cep­tively sim­ple, yet sub­limely spooky premise — the boogey­man only ap­pears when the lights go out, and van­ishes as soon they’re back on — for all it was worth. And he has done it again — with even cheesier ma­te­rial — tak­ing the cliche-filled pantry of the Devil-doll pre­quel “Annabelle: Cre­ation” and turn­ing out a dish that, while pulled to­gether from the fa­mil­iar com­po­nents of the ghost story, is un­com­monly, nerve-wrack­ingly sat­is­fy­ing.

The recipe Sand­berg uses is one we’ve seen be­fore, mix­ing bits and pieces from a screen­play by Gary Dauber­man (who also wrote the much less ef­fec­tive “Annabelle,” a 2014 spinoff from the uni­verse of “The Con­jur­ing”). The 1950s-set tale, which cen­ters on or­phans liv­ing in a re­mote, sprawl­ing house, com­plete with balky elec­tric­ity, a drafty dumb­waiter and an abun­dance of se­cret crawl spa­ces, also fea­tures: a locked room; a dead child; a well; a reclu­sive in­valid who wears a “Phantom of the Opera”-style half-mask; and, for cry­ing out loud, a night­mar­ish scare­crow.

Twelve years af­ter los­ing their daugh­ter, known as Bee (Sa­mara Lee), in a car ac­ci­dent, Sam and Es­ther Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia and Mi­randa Otto) open their home to six or­phaned girls and a nun (Stephanie Sig­man).

In short or­der, one of the girls be­gins to see spooky ap­pari­tions. And the afore­men­tioned doll — which she dis­cov­ers in a locked room lined with pages from the Bible — just won’t stay put.

On paper, “Annabelle: Cre­ation” shouldn’t work. But to be fair, what horror movie doesn’t sound stupid when you talk about it? Horror works — or it doesn’t — in the flick­er­ing, mov­ing images of the screen, not the page.

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