CHUCKY, the ventriloquist's dummy Fats, Poltergeist's maniacal clown ... creepy dolls are a horror staple.

Hollow-eyed Annabelle, who first froze audiences with her malevolent gaze in James Wan's surprise 2013 hit The Conjuring, is the latest addition to the demonic fold.

While the porcelain-and-pigtailed creation served her purpose well enough in the original film, as a ghost hunter's trophy, the jury is currently still out as to whether she has what it takes to carry an entire film.

The antique star made a somewhat shaky debut as a leading lady in the eponymously-titled 2014 film Annabelle, an opportunistic spin-off that played well at the box office despite overwhelmingly negative reviews.

Lights Out director David F. Sandberg elicits a stronger performance in Annabelle: Creation, which as the title suggests is an origin story (or prequel to the original prequel if one is talking chronologically).

The spooky, possessed Annabelle doll and Talitha Bateman as Janice in Annabelle: Creation.
The spooky, possessed Annabelle doll and Talitha Bateman as Janice in Annabelle: Creation. Contributed

He is nevertheless constrained by her limited range.

The film opens at an isolated farmhouse where a taciturn toymaker (Anthony LaPaglia) is putting the finishing touches on a handcrafted, limited edition doll.

A handwritten note is slipped under the door by his beloved young daughter inviting him to play hide and seek.

Not long afterwards, she is killed in freak car accident.

The story then flashes forward 12 years. A busload of orphaned girls winds its way across dusty plains to the now-dilapidated house which, after an extended grieving period, the toymaker and his wife (Miranda Otto) hope to once again fill with children's laughter.

But even as the girls unpack, strange goings-on begin to occur.

Crippled by polio, Janice (Talitha Bateman) is most sensitive to the supernatural presence.

On her first night at the new house, she is somehow drawn to the dead daughter's bedroom, unlocking the closet to which the Annabelle doll has long been banished.

Lulu Wilson and Stephanie Sigman in a scene from Annabelle: Creation.
Lulu Wilson and Stephanie Sigman in a scene from Annabelle: Creation. Justin Lubin

From that point, all hell literally breaks loose.

Annabelle: Creation is a workmanlike horror film that skilfully builds narrative tension and offers horror fans some genuine, well-developed scares.

But Sandberg is unable to transcend a stale and rather pedestrian storyline that lacks any kind of spiritual or psychological subtext.

Annabelle: Creation ultimately confirms Wan's reputation as one of the modern masters of suspense.

The co-creator of the Saw franchise has an uncanny knack for reworking classic horror tropes in a manner that makes them seem fresh and vital.

Alongside his Conjuring films, this feels like the work of an apprentice.

Annabelle: Creation is now showing.

Annabelle: Creation

Stars: Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Talitha Bateman.

Director: David F. Sandberg

Rating: MA15+

Verdict: 2.5 stars

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