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Annabelle: Creation

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Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to 2014’s Annabelle, which is itself a spin-off movie and kinda-prequel to James Wan’s superb 2013 horror blockbuster, The Conjuring. If that sentence makes you want to claw at the walls of reality and unleash a yorp of existential confusion, fear not – Annabelle: Creation tells a mostly standalone story. More surprising – especially after the tedious, scare-free stink-fest that was Annabelle – is works really rather well.

The story opens with Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), a dollmaker who specialises in bespoke dolls that are clearly evil-looking for some reason. Together with his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) and daughter, Annabelle (Samara Lee) they are one big happy family. This being a horror movie that quickly ends with a hideous accident, leaving the parents childless.

Cut to 12 years later and the Mullins have opened their sprawling, creepy house as an orphanage. Our story really begins when Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and a bunch of orphan girls, including polio-afflicted, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her bestie, Linda (Lulu Wilson) move in. Things start getting weird in short order, and Janice begins to suspect something evil resides within the walls of their new home.

After a slightly stiff beginning, Annabelle: Creation finds it feet, becoming a tense and effective supernatural thriller. The scares are unlikely to startle anyone with their originality, but director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) knows how to skillfully stage a spooky sequence, and Janice’s nocturnal visits to Annabelle’s old bedroom are particularly well-executed.

By the time the third act comes around the paranormal manifestations have become gloriously over-the-top and the film slips into full on spookshow rollercoaster mode. It has fun and it’s quite likely you will too. The cast are solid, with Miranda Otto doing a lot with a little and the child actors being quite endearing, plus the sound design is loud yet layered enough to give your nerves a serious workout.

Annabelle: Creation is the first Conjuring spin-off that actually feels worthy of its source material. There are a number of other spin-off titles in the pipe, including The Nun, The Crooked Man and – oh I don’t know – The Guitar on Which Patrick Wilson Murdered Elvis in The Conjuring 2 (probably) but if they’re all up to the standard of Annabelle: Creation that might not be as silly an idea as it sounds. Regardless, taken as a single entity, Annabelle: Creation is an occasionally crude but effective success.

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Dance Academy: The Movie

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After three seasons on the ABC, the hugely popular Dance Academy makes the leap to the big screen, getting pretty much the whole gang back together for what is either one final hurrah or the first in a new, expanded franchise, depending on how you like at it (and how the numbers look when all is said and done).

Picking up some 18 months after the end of series three, Dance Academy: The Movie sees Tara (Xenia Goodwin) trying to put her life back together following her all-but-career-ending spinal injury. Working as a waitress at the Opera House keeps her on the periphery of the performing world, but she knows she needs to be in the thick of it. After a failed audition for Ballet Company director Madeline Moncur (Miranda Otto), Tara takes to the road to find herself, heading first to New York City to reconnect with Kat (Alicia Banit), now a popular children’s show host, then to Texas to spend time with mentor Lucinda (Tara Morice) and old friend and fellow dancer Ben (Thomas Lacey), who is battling cancer. The pair begin developing their own routines and are determined to showcase their talents in NYC, but an opportunity to rejoin Moncur’s company means Tara must decide once and for what she really wants.

Eschewing the usual “follow your dreams” narrative, Dance Academy makes the astute observation that the dreams of our youth are not necessarily what’s best for us in maturity – the central drama isn’t whether Tara will get back on stage, but whether she really wants to, which lends the proceedings some welcome emotional complexity. This subtext never overwhelms the story, though; on the surface, Dance Academy remains a bright, bubbly and energetic affair. TV veteran director Jeffrey Walker keeps things moving along at a decent clip, and the deft script by series creator Samantha Strauss manages to juggle a large cast effectively.

It’s still essentially a teen drama, mind you, and your mileage will of course be affected by how much import you place on the travails of the young, attractive and insanely talented. Dance Academy is definitely in the upper echelon of the genre though, and if you’re a 40-something with fond memories of, say, Degrassi High, then this will certainly push a lot of the same buttons. Dance Academy fans will already be on board for the feature-length continuing adventures of Tara and company, but newcomers will have a good time, too.

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