If there is any film series I never expected to find interest in, it would be the “Conjuring” cinematic universe. At first glance, I found the series to be cliché and embellished to the point of rendering their “true story” tagline pointless. However, I unexpectedly decided to see this film, and to my surprise, there were some old-fashioned frights to be found.

“Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to “Annabelle,” a film that expands on the origins of the haunted doll. Samuel and Esther Mullins provide refuge for six young orphans, along with their caretaker, Sister Charlotte, twelve years after a tragic accident. Out of the six girls, the film primarily focuses on Janice and Linda. Janice is crippled by polio and thus an outsider amongst the girls, relying on Linda as her only friend. Against Samuel’s wishes, Janice enters his deceased daughter’s room one night, and she unwittingly unleashes Annabelle’s curse. Soon, the occupants of the Mullins home have one scary encounter with her spirit and various others, and as Janice becomes the victim of demonic possession, a dark family secret reveals Annabelle’s true intentions.

A major gripe I have about horror films nowadays is their mechanical execution of jump scares. There is a premeditated formula to executing scares a lot of filmmakers have beaten to death. Start the story with several fake-outs, produce a creepier atmosphere several scenes later, have the music swell to indicate that tension is building, and just as the audience believes the character has subverted a nasty encounter, cue the loud noise and sudden, frightening visuals. When executed poorly, it comes across as condescending to the audience. It is as though the director doubts their audience’s ability to decipher scares through subtle cues and feels the need to provide training wheels.

Annabelle: Creation suffered from that mistake several times, but there was still a lot of rousing scares to offset the execution. For every moment that seemed forced, there were at least three more that helped me remain invested. Not only that, but the cinematography was slick (save for a few awkward transitions), and the sound design helped accentuate the eerie environment. While this results in an presentation, it was an engaging one nonetheless.

Thankfully, though, if the scares fail to satisfy, there is always the story to fall back on.

The story was the strongest part of the film, especially with regards to the Mullins’ backstory and Janice and Linda’s friendship. The emotion conveyed by the characters was so strong, it felt like more of a tragedy than a horror story at times. The film hosted a strong cast, particularly Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as Linda.

Their chemistry was the heart of the plot, and they communicated the way real children would.

The film bookended with the beginning of Annabelle and the post-credits sequence hinted at what is to come from the next installment in the “Conjuring” universe, “The Nun.” Had I known this before I went into the film, I would not have been so confused.

I will have to watch more films in the series to understand the ending better. Considering this was my introduction to this cinematic universe, it looks like it will be an enjoyable thrill ride.