Annabelle Comes Home movie review: The Conjuring Universe delivers its best spin-off, but that’s not a compliment
Annabelle Comes Home
Director - Gary Dauberman
Cast - McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga
Rating - 2.5/5
It’s rare for a series of spin-offs to outclass the originals, but that is precisely what is happening with the Annabelle films. The third and most recent, Annabelle Comes Home, is easily the best of the lot, and therefore, by law of elimination, better than both Conjuring films.
This isn’t high praise, by the way. The Conjuring franchise remains a baffling example of how, despite being rather ordinary, a series of films could alter the landscape for mainstream horror movies in Hollywood. They’ve spawned several imitators, each more terrible than the last.
Watch the Annabelle Comes Home trailer here
Annabelle Comes Home is neither here nor there – too generic for hardcore horror fans to enjoy, and desperately lacking in jump scares, which is sure to dissatisfy longtime fans of the franchise.
But more than any previous entry in the Conjuring Universe, Annabelle Comes Home is perhaps the most directly connected to director James Wan’s originals. It begins with a familiar opening crawl, with blood red letters announcing the title and reassuring you that yes, you have arrived at the correct screening.
But in addition to relaying information that I have already forgotten, the opening crawl performs the double duty of re-introducing us to Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by a returning Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, as they acquire the creepy doll. The Conjuring series, at seven films old now, is established enough to offer fan service, which is perhaps why this prologue exists. I assume fans would be excited to learn how exactly Annabelle came to be in the Warrens’ possession.
On their way back home, they witness a car accident. The detour takes them along a deserted stretch, where their car promptly splutters out of life, stranding them and Annabelle near a haunted house. It is then that the Warrens first experience the evil that the doll is capable of. It sounds scary, but it really isn’t.
The Warrens, shook from their latest paranormal experience and displaying a sort of obsessive thrill at having found another haunted artifact for their vast collection, arrange for a priest to come and help them ‘contain the evil’. Annabelle is soon ensconced in her cabinet, compelled by a bunch of mumbo jumbo to remain there until an idiotic teenager sets her free.
Which is exactly what happens when a year later, the Warrens are summoned to another investigation, and forced to leave their thoroughly messed up daughter, played by the very talented McKenna Grace, under the supervision of a babysitter. But instead of warning her about having boys over or keeping an eye out for exposed electrical sockets, the babysitter, played by Madison Iseman, must protect young Judy Warren from the minefield of possessed objects that her parents, for some vague reason, have decided to stow in their basement – perhaps to introduce some gothic terror to their mundane suburban lives.
This, ladies and gents, is what you call a classic horror set-up. The premise has been set; the traps – as they were – have been laid. In that regard, Annabelle Comes Home is clearly the work of a writer – every little twist and turn is foreshadowed, and certain characters, for the first time ever in this series, have been given compelling arcs.
The film has been directed by Gary Dauberman, who is both a franchise veteran and also a first-time director. Dauberman has previously written both previous Annabelle films, the eye-goungingly terrible The Nun, but crucially, also the wonderful Stephen King adaptation, It – an indication, perhaps, of just how limiting being stuck in a franchise can be. Promisingly, he does display a solid command over his craft, often elevating uninspired sequences by using nifty, in-camera trickery.
The difference between a good horror film and a bad one, since Dauberman has been involved with both, depends squarely on the antagonists. And tellingly, Annabelle has absolutely no agenda whatsoever other than slipping into children’s beds and perching on a rocking chair from time to time. Now compare that to Pennywise, who had a dense backstory and a compelling modus operandi, in addition to a creepy physical appearance.
But by voting with our hard-earned money, we’ve given our approval to the Conjuring Universe and its unambitious brand of horror. Don’t expect a severe course-correction anytime soon.