Annabelle Comes Home, 2019.
Directed by Gary Dauberman
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, and Katie Sarife.
While babysitting the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a teenager and her friend unknowingly awaken an evil spirit trapped in a doll.
There are now officially more Annabelle movies than Conjuring movies, which sort of makes sense in the logic that there are always going to be more side entries than main entries in any given cinematic universe but also feels wrong given the amount of varied demonic forces Ed and Lorraine Warren have faced off against. Annabelle is no doubt the most popular of these spinoff supernatural terrors and also the only series that has yielded another good installment in the franchise aside from both excellent Conjuring flicks, but don’t let the marketing fool you, Annabelle Comes Home is more of an R-rated Goosebumps featuring cameos from as many evil spirits as possible, so much to the point where the titular doll is as lost in the shuffle as the very few characters being juggled (the movie has a habit of placing them in life-threatening danger only to forget about them and have them pop up 15 minutes later with not a scratch on them so they can save the day in some way).
Despite the ridiculous approach to Annabelle Comes Home that sees out of place creatures such as werewolves terrorizing the protagonists (it goes against the reality-grounded nature of the horror) that essentially functions as some kind of shameless ploy to sit back and wait what character becomes the next fan favorite or garners memes, so Warner Bros. can give the go-ahead for that character’s own origin story, writer and director Gary Dauberman (he has had a hand in writing all of the Annabelle movies including the widely successful adaptation of It, also making his directorial debut here) at least focuses on making us care about the characters, even though the fake-out deaths become quite annoying.
The gifted Mckenna Grace (she was fantastic portraying a prodigy child a few years back) shines once again, this time as the young daughter of Lorraine Warren, Judy. The notoriety of her demon hunting parents has made the girl an outcast at school; she is bullied and no one is set to come to her birthday party aside from her babysitter, who clearly gets a lot of hours seeing as the Warrens seem to usually have a case to travel and work on. It’s not just a sympathy parade though, as once the evil is accidentally let loose, the upbringing of her parents has taught her enough about death and battling malicious spirits that she actually serves as the most resourceful character in peril. That is also another layer of excitement added given it’s boldly rare watching a child take charge and be the most equipped person for the situation when usually they are relegated to placing everyone else in further danger/making stupid mistakes.
Ineptitude falls on both Madison Iseman’s Mary Ellen (recently seen in the Goosebumps sequel, adding more weight to the earlier comparison) and Katie Sarife’s Daniela as the babysitters in over their head, and for as frustrating as some of the boneheaded moves they make are, it’s also tied to the organic longing to understand the afterlife and communicate with our loved ones. It doesn’t necessarily mitigate every dumb move, but if I’m going to watch dumb characters it’s nice to have some humanity in them. Also making an appearance is the brave hopeful boyfriend of Mary Ellen, courageously helping fend off some of the ghoulies in an effort to woo her (there’s a hilarious conversation with a pizza delivery boy built around how he must win her heart). Nevertheless, the women prove to be capable on their own for the most part, which is mildly refreshing as far as the horror genre goes.
The script also wisely leans more toward detailing the characters rather than the jump scares galore festival previous entries in the cinematic universe have been (I did not review The Curse of La Llorona, but I can say it was so dreadful I came into this screening expecting disappointment only to be somewhat surprised). These characters are easy to care about and root for, finding themselves in a haunted house full of possessed artifacts, conduits, violent brides, werewolves, mirrors that play head games, nods to previous movies, and anything else that can be thrown in there for good measure. There is also a clever setpiece involving a board game where characters must pick a card and then reach inside a small box to pull out an object resembling whatever was on the card they selected, and while it feels like this is still the filmmakers trying to top the masterful sequence of blindfolded hide-and-seek from The Conjuring, it still makes for an effective scare as do a few other moments. Particularly, the film is strong at using eye-catching cinematography so the audience lets their guard down before something makes its ugly presence known.
Oddly, Annabelle Comes Home also works as The Conjuring 2.5 with its opening and rather lengthy appearances from Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) that acknowledges the ongoing story thread of them allegedly being frauds. Bringing a daughter into the mix could further spice up the family plot thread, but you know, we actually need a third Conjuring for that to happen. And while this movie is thankfully not another disaster in the cinematic universe (aside from last year’s Annabelle: Creation, these movies are mostly atrocious without James Wan directing them), it’s time to give Annabelle a rest and finally move on to The Conjuring 3 or whatever of the 30 demons becomes an Internet phenomenon and gets greenlit for its own movie.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com