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Annabelle: Creation

Demonic possession is child's play in Annabelle: Creation, a 1950s-set prequel that enriches the mythology of the wooden doll, which wreaked havoc in the 2013 supernatural horror The Conjuring. Directed by David F Sandberg, who sent beads of sweat cascading down our spines with his debut feature, Lights Out, this spooky yarn has enough piercing jolts to sate horror fans, who enjoy being scared out of their wits. It's a marked improvement on the first Annabelle stand-alone picture, which lazily appropriated elements from The Omen and Rosemary's Baby for a turgid tale of maternal sacrifice. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman concentrates his battle of good and evil within the creaking walls of a doll maker's isolated home, where tiny carved limbs dangle ominously from strings and a scarecrow in the barn threatens to spring to malevolent life. Tiny movements in shadowy hallways signal impending doom and a stair lift provides an agonisingly slow escape from one centrepiece haunting. Dauberman nods to other chapters in the series, including a visual cue to the hideous nun from The Conjuring 2, who will be the subject of her own spin-off in 2018, and an unsettling coda that dovetails neatly with murders in the existing timeline. Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) are devastated by the death of their beloved seven-year-old daughter, Bee (Samara Lee). In the depths of despair, they turn to their faith for solace, yearning against hope for an opportunity to see their little girl again. Twelve years later, a local orphanage is forced to close and Samuel and his wife offer temporary refuge to Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and her six wards: Nancy (Philippa Coulthard), Carol (Grace Fulton), Kate (Tayler Buck), Tierney (Lou Lou Safran), Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson). Janice is fitted with a leg brace as a result of a polio outbreak so she is consigned to the house while the other girls play outside and excitedly explore the sprawling property. Left to her own devices, Janice nervously enters Bee's old bedroom, which is out of bounds. "Forgive me Father, for I am about to sin," whispers the girl before she shuffles across the threshold. This transgression unleashes a dark force, which uses Bee's favourite plaything as a conduit to transform the sanctuary of the Mullins' homestead into a scream-filled slaughterhouse. Annabelle: Creation relies on well-worn horror tropes to set nerves on edge, punctuating a linear narrative with explosions of sickening violence directed at the terrified girls. Bateman and Wilson shoulder the film's emotional burden, attempting to outrun the darkness in a series of slickly executed set pieces including a topsy turvy chase in a dumb waiter. Sandberg allows the suspense to build gradually and puts his teary-eyed young stars through the wringer. Playtime is over.