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.
As garish as the prospect of a spin-off franchise based on The Conjuring‘s creepy possessed doll Annabelle seemed at first – backed up by 2014’s Annabelle being really quite terrible – 2017’s surprisingly decent sequel, Annabelle: Creation, suggested an inoffensive cinematic niche for the “character” to exist in.
And though this threequel brings plenty of promise to the table – namely supporting roles for The Conjuring‘s Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, and the previous film’s writer Gary Dauberman returning to both write and direct – Annabelle Comes Home is ultimately a shockingly snoozy haunted house romp with desperately little creative or even basically moody on offer.
When the movie begins, the titular doll is of course locked away in a designated artifact room within Ed and Lorraine Warren’s (Wilson and Farmiga) house, but when their daughter Judy’s (Mckenna Grace) babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) receives a visit from her nosy friend Daniela (Katie Sarife), some curious exploration results in the dormant evil being unleashed upon the trio.
It’s a yawner of a set-up, to be honest, because it immediately establishes the character of Daniela as an unlikeable idiot, with her snooping being the movie’s instigating incident. Dauberman’s script makes a rather lazy attempt to hand-wave this fact by giving the character a tragic back-story and motivation, but it does little to downplay that this is a movie propelled forward by insultingly bad character decisions.
And perhaps that would be fine if Annabelle Comes Home were anything more than a totally safe, tame and down-the-line horror film even once the shenanigans get going. Every scare deployed, usually accompanied by a loud bang or tension chord, can be set to a metronome, while Dauberman proves all-too-reliant on The Conjuring series’ long-tired trope of characters slowly walking around in the dark for five minutes before – boo!
Practically every set-piece is either telegraphed with an hilarious blatancy or simply too similar to what we’ve seen in previous entries, while the script foreshadows narrative happenings with a sledgehammer subtlety. When the camera lingers slightly too long on Mary Ellen taking a puff on her inhaler, for example, you can practically feel the movie telling you, “This will be important later.”
It adds up to a dull stew of a horror sequel that sadly doesn’t even benefit much from the presence of the Warrens, who are basically only in the movie for the sake of the trailer, bookending the story with maybe 10 minutes of screen time.
The Warrens seem to take every possible prospect of suspense or intrigue with them when they make their hasty first act exit, because what’s left behind feels agonisingly low-effort and hurriedly churned out. Supposedly suspenseful sequences are flat and uninvolving, and most every attempt to widen Annabelle’s mythology proves aggressively uninteresting.
If the film has any one thing going for it, though, it’s absolutely the ensemble cast. Wilson and Farmiga of course knock their small roles out of the park, while young Mckenna Grace follows up her brilliant performance in last year’s Netflix horror series The Haunting of Hill House with another solid turn, albeit one hamstrung by the limitations of the script. Similarly, her co-stars Iseman and Sarife are absolutely decent, and so it’s a shame their efforts are basically wasted on such shamelessly generic material.
Hell, it’s not even a particularly nice film to look at, either; numerous scenes in the second half are hideously washed-out, clearly aiming for spooky but more convincingly landing on drab and, on occasion, even incomprehensible.
Above all else, Annabelle Comes Home never inspires its audience to care; it’s too self-serious to be much fun, yet too derivative and boring to be even remotely scary. So who, exactly, is this good for? Though not as objectionable as the original Annabelle, it is nevertheless a distressingly thoughtless excursion that couldn’t seem much more generic if it actually tried.
Solid performances aren’t enough to prop up this deathly dull, shopworn horror film rife with obvious jump scares and…not much else.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.