Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
She’s baaaacccckkkkk! With friends now too!
If you, like me, found Annabelle: Creation to be subpar filmmaking with a lazy reliance on jump scares, Annabelle Comes Home is more restrained, focused on story, and delays those moments for when they can truly matter.
We don’t need a Conjuring Universe, but we have one and devout fans will be thrilled to see the introduction of a number of new nasties who could spin-off into their own films and franchises.
For those who only watch these things for the jump scares, though it has some, this may prove to be too boring and restrained for your liking.
Here’s a thought, and just hear me out for a minute: Maybe just destroy the doll?
The potential for any number of new movies to be made around new characters introduced here is a reminder that we could potentially have Conjuring-related movies into the next millennium.
Though approximately 7-out-of-10 critics gave 2017’s Annabelle: Creation a thumbs up, I was steadfastly a part of the 30% who found it subpar, lazy, and pointless. The origin story of how the Annabelle doll became a beacon for malevolent spirits made more than $300 million worldwide ($102 million domestic on a $15 million budget), and sustained the increasing tales included in the ever-growing Conjuring Universe.
And so, no - there is little surprise that Annabelle Comes Home hits theaters nearly two years later, bringing back the wide-eyed doll who summons evil, with story inspiration credited to the documented work of paranormal investigators Earl and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga).
This third official Annabelle movie, from writer Gary Dauberman (It, previous Annabelle movies), making his directorial debut, takes us into the early 1970s and trots out a tale as old as time in horror films: The Teenage Babysitter in the Haunted House.
After a prologue shows us the full scope of Annabelle’s powers, we see the Warrens, approximately one year later, hiring babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to stay with their 10-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace). They are off to investigate a new report, zipping out early on in the film and letting the cliched formula embed itself within us like murderous hellish beasts do with the creepy-eyed, pig-tailed doll who literally sits there and does nothing.
Which is kind of the charm. Annabelle is not Chucky. Heck, she’s not even the toys from Toy Story. The one unique thing about her is that she literally does absolutely nothing. And Dauberman takes full advantage of that “empty portal” idea when events begin to unfold.
Mary Ellen’s best friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife), inserts herself into the babysitting gig, as we discover she has a particular fascination-slash-obsession with the Warrens. When the opportunity arises to be alone for a bit, Daniela sneaks around, finds keys, and helps herself into the forbidden “artifacts room,” where the Warrens keep all the possessions, baubles, trinkets, and other assorted haunted items they have recovered from their investigations.
This is where Annabelle lives, housed in a large glass case (church glass no less…) with a huge sign on it that reads “WARNING! POSITIVELY DO NOT OPEN.” Naturally, we wouldn’t have a movie if Daniela didn’t ignore the sign, and proceed to put hands on nearly everything in the room. And so…unwittingly, she unleashes almost literal hell on earth, or at least in and around the Warren house, and Annabelle Comes Home slowly builds to an intense, increasingly curious story where all three girls try to survive everything coming at them.
Dauberman takes a somewhat different approach with Annabelle Comes Home, and restrains himself from the jump scare model that has ruined and soured many a horror film over the last decade. Here, he writes a patient, rather simple screenplay, which provides some moments of great tension and surprise, even if it is steeped in the memories of movies we have all seen before.
As Judy, Grace is the film’s anchor, a gifted young actor who radiates fear and anxiety believably well. As the movie escalates into malevolence, we see a new world starting to be built around her. With Daniela’s careless behavior in the artifacts room, we see The Ferryman for the first time. A veiled bride gets involved, as well as an assortment of beasts and demons and ghostly spirits all set to unleash harm.
Motivations for why things happen, in movies like these, go out the window, as does simple logic. However, I must say, elements of Annabelle Comes Home proved a bit unnerving and Dauberman is skilled at controlling the atmosphere and making us squirm and fidget along the journey.
And sure, like we have seen so many times, quick stabs of sound and sudden, shocking imagery can make us jump or yell out. However, those moments are really just empty cinematic calories we consume with no lasting benefit. Annabelle Comes Home doesn’t completely rely on those moments, offering a positive step forward this franchise desperately needs to continue with relevancy and legacy.
This is all kind of a fun, empty-headed, Haunted House-throwback horror film that played really, really well with my opening night audience. Annabelle Comes Home is not a waste of time like its predecessors. And for those who love this Conjuring Universe, I imagine fans will be elated at Dauberman’s broad vision on where this series can go next.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Michael Cimino, Steve Coulter, Luca Luhan, Samara Lee, Gary-7, Anthony Wemyss, Natalia Safran, Douglas Tait, Alexander Ward.
Director: Gary Dauberman
Written by: Gary Dauberman (screenplay); James Wan (story)
Release Date: June 26, 2019