Synopsis – While babysitting the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a teenager and her friend unknowingly awaken an evil spirit trapped in a doll.
My Take – Since its release back in 2013, who would have thought that the James Wan directed ‘The Conjuring’ would spawn a franchise with about eight films (and counting) till date. The series which wraps its narrative around real-life demonology and witchcraft consultants, Ed and Lorraine Warren and their supernatural history, which has also been an inspiration of many (unrelated) films like The Amityville Horror and The Haunting in Connecticut, has gone on to now become the most successful (albeit inconsistent) horror film franchise in cinema history.
When first met the cursed doll Annabelle in the 2013, she was one of the creepiest things in an already creepy film, and a solid prop to deserve her own film. A film which we received in the form of a disappointing 2014 entry which was only marred with clichés and forgettable tropes, thankfully, director David F. Sandberg did a brilliant job of getting the burgeoning franchise back on track with his origin story, Annabelle: Creation (2017), centered around the titular doll’s beginnings.
But how many stories can you tell about one cursed doll? And they say a trilogy’s last film is generally its weakest, but thankfully, this latest entry is an exception to the rule.
Here, first-time director Gary Dauberman (longtime writer and producer of both The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona) not only does right by the cinematic legacy of the popular otherworldly doll, but also manages to deliver up an experience akin to getting lost inside a thrill-a-minute haunted house, resulting in not only a great Annabelle film, but also one of the best films so far in the ever-expanding Conjuring universe.
Sure, it isn’t nearly as effective as the main Conjuring films but it does hold its own by playing it right, by being reliably scary, brimming with a tense atmosphere and jarring jump scares, has excellent performances from its small cast and makes several intriguing additions to Conjuring lore.
If you’re looking for a film filled with dread tension and horror, this is not clearly for you, but for fans of the series, this is yet another predictably fun, popcorn-throwing scare fest.
This time around the story follows Judy (Mckenna Grace), the ten-year-old daughter of demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), who after picking up the notorious Annabelle doll bring her back to their home, to add her to their artifacts room. Lulled into complacency by a priest’s blessing and a few panes of “chapel glass,” the doll is tucked away behind a locked door where it is expressly written that no one should enter.
However, sometime later, the couple are once again called for duty, leaving Judy in the care of Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), her thoughtful and caring babysitter, who isn’t fazed by the reputation of the Warrens whatsoever.
Contend with spending the weekend together preparing for Judy’s upcoming birthday, the two are surprisingly interrupted by Mary Ellen’s best friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife), who has been obsessing over her fascination about the locked room in the Warren house filled with dangerous artifacts.
And moment Daniela finds herself inside the room and curiously unlocks her, Annabelle begins unleashing hell on the trio of young women, making their weekend together memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Without a doubt, the film is hopelessly predictable, and the story does echo familiar with certain thematics/aspects that we’ve seen in this film universe, with youth being the focal point surrounded by the paranormal phenomenon. However, what makes this film stand out is how it manages to do two very different things at the same time.
It tells a small, more self-contained story, by setting up in a literal room full of evil objects, in the vein of the Night of the Museum, and also manages to open up a world to newer concepts and characters we’ll probably be seeing in later films.
As another entry into the Conjuring franchise, this film doesn’t bring anything remarkably excellent to the universe as a whole, but as a stand-alone film it serves as a genuinely enjoyable snapshot of the Warrens’ history without taking itself too seriously. This is arguably the film’s greatest strength, bringing the same flavor as The Cabin in The Woods (2011) with its varied compilation-style collection of monsters and demons, and nailing every possible horror trope, camera shot, jump-scare moment you can imagine.
Sure, the plot does take a little bit of time to develop and maybe spends too much time trying to develop some of the characters before anything really exciting does happen. But, once things do start going bump, it does get very fast paced and thoroughly foreboding at times all while staying grounded with the plot.
At the heart of the story is an emotional tale about dealing with death and loss. The interaction between Katie and her dead father was a moment filled with equal parts of sentiments and equal parts of scaring your eyes out. Here, director Dauberman has cleverly made use of his three female protagonists and stepped away from treating them as mindless characters, who have no sense of defensive attitude.
Instead, we get strong-willed characters, who actually use their senses in the time of crisis to survive and fight back. And when it comes to the actual horror backdrop, it’s Warren’s household that takes center stage for the majority of the story.
While the house looks like the perfect family home for three in the daylight, by night, the home becomes the perfect setup for a haunted house. And thankfully, director Dauberman does a great job of tapping into what makes Annabelle such a dangerous entity and manages to craft some inventive scares that play around with audience expectations.
Even though they are a key part of this franchise, I have never been all that crazy about the loud jump-scares in these films, mainly because I view them as a generally lazy and uninspired way to startle viewers in lieu of creating genuine dread and psychological terror. While the film still has some jump-scares that don’t really work, the horror in the film does reach more efficacious and creative heights than that.
There are also some moments in the film when the viewer thinks a jump-scare might happen, but it actually does not, which helps balance surprise with suspense during the film’s duration.
The only part where the film fails, however, is in giving horror nerds anything truly frightening. There isn’t a drop of blood shed in this film and while catering to a larger ‘safe’ demographic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the franchise could do well in upping its game with pure dread going forward.
The performances here are really strong, too, with Mckenna Grace stealing the show as the tender-hearted Judy Warren, and gets ample support from Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife. In a side role, Michael Cimino is an absolute delight, and manages to bring much of the needed humor here.
While franchise leads, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles, they play only second fiddle in this tale as they only appear in the beginning and towards the end. Nevertheless, they manage to continue delivering excellent performances. On the whole, ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ is another solid entry in the horror franchise, which despite its predictable structure offers the right mix of horror and humor.
Directed – Gary Dauberman
Rated – R
Run Time – 106 minutes