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Front Page - Friday, August 18, 2017

Critic's Corner: ‘Don’t open that door!’ No, really, just stay home

Quick poll: You’re staying in a house in which someone is brutally killed by a supernatural entity. What do you do next?

If you’re the caretaker of a small group of orphan girls in “Annabelle: Creation,” a new film set in the “Conjuring” cinematic universe, you tuck the children in for the night and have them say their prayers.

“If I should die before I wake...”

Question two: A demon claiming to be the spirit of your dead daughter has taken up residence in one of her dolls and begun searching for a human host. What’s the wisest course of action?

If you’re the father of the late girl, you seal it in a closet in your house and plaster the walls of the chamber with pages from the Bible – ostensibly because the hundreds of acres of open land that surround your home don’t contain any good spots for a fire and there’s no trash pick up that far out of town.

Then you sit down to dinner and pray a blessing over the food.

Uh-uh. Not me.

The disconnect between the actions of the characters in “Annabelle: Creation” and what any sensible person would do in those situations is so severe, I was unable to fully enjoy what could have been a chilling haunted house romp.

That’s too bad because there’s some good stuff at the front end of the film.

“Annabelle: Creation” opens with Sam and Esther losing their daughter in a hit-and-run accident. Twelve years later, the still-grieving couple opens their home to six girls from a shuttered orphanage and their caretaker nun.

Sam gives the girls the run of the house, save for the room previously occupied by their late 5-year-old daughter, Annabelle. The demon possessed doll resides in there now, so you can understand his reluctance to open it for playtime.

One of girls, Janice, is too curious to let a closed door stop her from exploring the forbidden space, so one night, she goes into the room and peruses its contents. (Maybe Sam should have locked the door to Annabelle’s room instead of merely closing it and declaring it off limits. I’m just saying...)

During Janice’s survey of the room, she finds the key to the closet, which she unlocks. This releases the demon, which resumes its quest to find a human host.

What follows is briefly fun. “Annabelle: Creation” is set in a beautiful, creaky monstrosity with lots of vintage detailing and features tailor-made for maximum creepiness. The moment I saw the clunky dumb waiter, I knew someone would be sorry they tried to hide in it.

As the demon gradually makes its presence known to the girls, there are several spine-tingling scenes that make good use of darkness, startling sounds and smooth camerawork.

I especially liked the scene in which one of Janice’s friends runs from the demon and climbs to the top of the bunk bed she and Janice share. The bed then rocks violently. As the girl peeks over the edge of her mattress to see what just clambered onto the lower bunk, I tensed up.

The direction during these scenes is strong. Director David Sandberg used classic camera techniques rather than the “shakycam” employed by some directors. This nicely fit the film’s old fashioned scary movie vibe.

I also liked his many wide shots, which make the house feel less claustrophobic and showcase all the shadowy corners from which the phantom could leap without warning.

But, alas, this careful, deliberate work eventually crumbles under the weight of bad logic and other issues, such as characters within earshot of someone in jeopardy not hearing the person scream.

By the time the action movie-style climax rolled around, I was divested of interest in what happened.

Last week, I reviewed “A Ghost Story,” a low-budget film in which an actor draped in a bedsheet watches the people who live in his house after he dies. It’s a somber, minimalistic masterpiece, rich with meaning.

“Annabelle: Creation” also features a scene with a ghostly sheet, but when the bedding drops, there’s nothing beneath.

With this in mind, I offer one more poll:

You’re planning a night at the movies and are in the mood for something spooky. Do you see the film that will slowly draw you into its story and hold you in its grip until it fades to black? Or do you see the movie that won’t even hold your interest to the end?

Unlike the characters in “Annabelle: Creation,” please choose wisely.

Two out of four stars