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‘Annabelle’ doesn’t conjure much

Talitha Bateman and Stephanie Sigman in “Annabelle: Creation”

“The Conjuring” is one of the better mainstream horror movies of the last 20 years. Refining the chilly aesthetic of 2010’s “Insidious,” writer/director James Wan not only honed his mastery of tension and tone with an atmospheric ghost story, he also stuck the landing—where “Insidious” ultimately stumbled.

“The Conjuring” introduced real-life paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), controversial demon hunters for Christ who became somewhat famous for that Amityville Horror thing. In “The Conjuring”’s James Bond-ish cold open, we learn of the Warren’s first case: that of two terrified female roommates and their seemingly possessed, creepy-ass doll, Annabelle.

The popularity of expanded universes being what they are, we got the 2014 spinoff, “Annabelle,” a seeming origin story that was unimpressive even with the advantage of zero expectations. But these things often make bank even when they’re bad (hello, “Saw”!), so now we have the actual origin story of the demon doll with a heart of (other people’s) souls, “Annabelle: Creation.”

Anthony LaPaglia is a doll maker with a wife and young daughter (Miranda Otto and Samara Lee), who live in a bucolic, rural house in the ‘60s. He crafts a doll, Annabelle, named for his daughter. When she dies in a tragic accident, he hides the doll in her room and closes the door for good.

Twelve years later, the couple take in a group of orphans, one of whom is suffering from polio and begins to see the long-dead Annabelle. Drawn to her old room, she discovers the doll, and all hell breaks loose.

Or at least I wish it would.

Both films in the “Annabelle” franchise are akin to dramas with horror elements. That might seem like a weird distinction, but it manifests itself in a slow, character-driven pace and a lower body count than most. Like the first, “Annabelle: Creation”’s lowered stakes feel slightly more tedious than scary.

It is, however, an improvement on the first film. David Sandberg directs with more assurance than “Annabelle’s” John Leonetti. LaPaglia and Otto, as well as Stephanie Sigman as the nun who cares for the orphans, turn in striking performances—and the R-rating allows for one gory shot.

I can’t honestly say “Annabelle: Creation” is bad. It’s just kind of there. Gary Dauberman’s script reliably hits familiar beats that sounded better in a different song.

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