In an industry where films are being fleshed out to inhabit their very own worlds, Marvel and DC are the obvious front-runners, what with their rich legacy of comics, graphic novels and the numerous buck-churning movies that have been able to firmly establish intricate universes. This model is now gaining so much momentum that Universal Pictures, recently, announced their own version of an ensemble universe called the Dark Universe wherein they would reprise some of their best characters from the horror genre such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, etc., bringing them back with a revamped makeover. The Mummy, which had been positioned and marketed as the very first film from this universe made Universal’s intentions very clear as to how serious they were in terms of making a space for themselves. With an impressive line-up of actors like Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, The Mummy was projected to kick-off the franchise with a billion-dollar revenue. Despite the $200 million production budget and a fairly successful franchise of the same name behind it, the reboot barely made half the projection, tapering off at $405 million at the box office.
Which makes us think that – Building a universe may seem a game of clout and money but it’s actually a lot more than that. Simply rebooting characters without continuity makes for characters which lack depth and fall prey to audience perception that they more often than not carry from the movies that they have seen earlier. A universe needs to be seen like a single tree which starts from a single root but expands its branches as it grows. It’s not to be treated like a forest where you plant multiple trees none having any correlation with the other whatsoever. The former kind of universes are much more stable as compared to the latter.
Read more: Recipe to a good Cinematic Universe
This brings us to the Warner bros. “accidental universe” that was sparked by James Wan’s genre-defining series The Conjuring. Adapted and fictionalized from actual events, the series revolved around the Warrens, who are paranormal investigators, as they battled with demonic forces ridding families from hauntings. Wan brought an unforeseen balance into both films wherein the story was not just about gore and jump-scares, but also showed the dynamics of the people brought together through a precarious situation. Through their many years of practice as paranormal investigators and conduits, the Warrens were able to collect several cursed or possessed objects among which was the infamous ‘Annabelle doll’. Mentioned and showed only fleetingly in the films, the creepy doll got a lot of attention from occult fans who demanded a solo feature for Annabelle. Directed by John Leonetti, who was also the cinematographer for some of the other well-appreciated films such as Dead Silence and Insidious, 2014’s Annabelle became the very first spin-off expanding The Conjuring’s universe further.
Annabelle : Creation takes the story backwards in time when a local doll-maker’s beloved five-year old daughter Annabelle Mullins is killed in a road accident. In 1955, 12 years after the incident, the Mullins have converted their home into a girls’ orphanage so that the house would be filled with noise and laughter again. After the unforeseen closure of their orphanage in the city, a group of girls accompanied by their guardian Sister Charlotte find home with the Mullins’. Although the children are happy to have moved into a better home, they can’t help but feel unsettled by Mr. Mullins who is always reserved which a perpetual sadness weighing on his personality. Mrs. Mullins doesn’t make an appearance, initially, due to some unknown illness that she seems to have. While showing them around the house, Mr. Mullins establishes some ground rules one of which is that nobody should enter a certain room which is to remain locked at all times. The children are intrigued about his sudden change in demeanor but soon forget about it, except one. Janice is a young twelve/thirteen year-old orphan who is afflicted by Polio and is unable to walk without crutches. One sleepless night, Janice finds that the door of the forbidden room unlocked. Curious as to what lay behind that door, she sneaks in and finds herself in what could only have been a little girl’s room. While looking through things, she accidentally opens up a closet and finds the Annabelle doll smiling back at her. Little does she know that she had released the demon that had been possessing the doll for all those years. Without divulging any details as to how the demon came to possess the doll, it would suffice to say that, after the door is opened, all hell breaks loose. Strange apparitions and malevolent shadows start plaguing Janice as she tries to convince her friends and Sister Charlotte through a moving monologue [not sic]:
“Sister you say that you cannot see God but you can feel his presence. I feel a different kind of presence. An evil one.”
Read more: The real story of the Annabelle doll
The first act of the film is almost completely an exposition about the tragedy in the Mullins family and the arrival of the girls. What begins like a conventional horror screenplay plagued with commonly used elements of poltergeist activity, turns darker with every scene moving into the second act. Initially, it is only Janice who is afflicted by the spirit but the innocent chuckles of the ghost of a child soon evolve into something much larger and much more powerful, wreaking havoc in the Mullins house. Director David Sandberg uses all the essential tropes of a good-old scary story into building suspense and tension – an other-worldly contact gone wrong, possession by a powerful malevolent entity, creating an atmosphere of tension with young children living in a house haunted by death and a doll at the end of it which we know survives well into the future.
The film has a healthy dollop of well-spaced out nail-biting moments that keep you at the edge of your seats, my favourite being the one where two of the girls are talking under a blanket and they hear the ring of Mrs. Mullins’ bell. Since they had never seen the lady of the house, they had formed all sorts of stories about her being a witch who devoured children and such. The bell was usually rung when the lady needed something from her husband but that particular night no one answered her. As the girls under the blanket kept wondering why Mr. Mullins was not answering her, the sound of the bell starts getting louder and closer. The nerve-wracking scene shows the two girls paralyzed with fear under the blanket as a blurry, convulsing figure is shown through the sheet walking right towards them .
Annabelle : Creation is exactly what you would expect from its name. The prequel tells the violent story behind one of the most infamous dolls ever to inhabit the Horror universe, besides Chucky of course. After Annabelle’s mixed response, this prequel has established itself as a worthy member in the Conjuring universe without complicating or twisting the plot, through simple story-telling. Besides Annabelle, there is another character who is well on its way to inhabit its very own spin-off film. Slated for a July 2018 release, The Nun would give us another highly anticipated origin story of one of the scariest undead characters from the very first film. From an audience’s perspective, this is much more exciting to me than having a universe of epic proportions that have shallow characters indulging in Don Quixotic heroics. Here’s to more from the universe of The Conjuring and to James Wan for giving us a classic horror franchise !
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