Annabelle Comes Home (15)
Director: Gary Dauberman
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
Review: RJ Bland
Since its release back in 2013, The Conjuring has spawned a couple of other franchises that all form part of a 'shared universe' – or 'Conjureverse' if you will. We've had another Conjuring movie (great), The Nun (a mess) and The Curse of La Llarona (so-so). However the most profilic spin-off has been the Annabelle series. Ever since that sinister doll first graced (if you can use that word) the big screen in The Conjuring, you just had a feeling that she was creepy enough to be the focal point of her own franchise. And so it came to pass – barely a year later she had her own movie, Annabelle was released. Although it was generally considered to be a little underwhelming, David F. Sandberg's follow-up, Annabelle: Creation was a big success and further established the mythos behind the demonic conduit. From a financial point of view, the first two films have cost under $25m dollars to make and have made well over $500m in worldwide sales. That's a staggering statistic which shows not just how profitable these types of movie can be – but also how popular horror is to mainstream audiences. A third Annabelle film was always going materialise sooner or later...which brings us to the third entry in the series, Annabelle Comes Home...
After an opening scene where Lorraine and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) return home (via a fatal accident and a spooky graveyard), we learn that they are soon heading out for a couple of days on 'business' – which usually means they're off exorcising or ghostbusting. In their absence, they hire affable teen babysitter Mary-Ellen (Madison Iseman) to look after their young daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace). Once the elder Warrens have vamoosed, Judy and Mary-Ellen's weekend plans of cake baking and games are crashed by Mary-Ellen's spirited friend Daniella. Daniella is very keen to know where all the haunted artefacts are stored (the Warrens are renowned in the neighbourhood) but Judy informs her that they are all locked away in a room. However, whilst Judy and Mary-Ellen are outside rollerskating, Daniella seizes her chance and breaks into said room and begins exploring and touching a load of the artefacts within. Including the infamous Annabelle doll. Big mistake - Annabelle is now free from her prison and promptly marshals a collection of other ghosts and ghouls against Judy and her ill-advised babysitters.
If there was ever a horror movie that was perfect for a bunch of teens on a sleepover, it's Annabelle Comes Home. Although it's very much a Conjureverse movie, it's probably the least heavy and retro of the lot. It's like Goosebumps for grown-ups. That's not to say there aren't scares or any sense of tension. First time director Gary Dauberman (the writer of the other Annabelle movies) stages some effective jump scares and some imaginative set-pieces. He also knows how to eek out a decent amount of tension in between and the way he utilises familiar tropes like sweeping fog and dimly lit hallways adds a sense of fun nostalgia too. It's also nicely contained with most of the action taking place inside the Warren House. It feels a bit like on of those haunted house attractions that invariably pop up when we approach the end of October. Set ups and payoffs are all the rage here, whilst the ominous Jo Bisharra scores that we're so used to in these movies are toned down a little. Whilst it's obviously not suitable for kids, there's a kind of innocence and corniness to Annabelle Comes Home that gives it an undeniable charm.
The movie also acts as something of an audition piece for potential future additions to this particular horror universe. We've got a cursed wedding dress, a TV that predicts the future, a werewolf type thing, a little monkey with symbols – but the most likely candidate is an entity known as the Ferryman, who is responsible for some of the best scenes in the film.
The biggest reason why the film works however is down to the three central characters. You wouldn't be alone in making certain assumptions about the personalities and trajectories of one or two of them but Dauberman subverts expectations somewhat and gives us a trio of likeable and more importantly - three dimensional – characters to root for. After all, what's the fun in watching three people you don't give a shit about being terrorised by ghosts and demons? Far more effective if we care about them surely? All three give solid turns too, with McKenna Grace perhaps being the standout performer. She was great in The Haunting of Hill House and she matches that performance here.
No doubt there will be some detractors. Those hoping for a more visceral and adult third entry will come away disappointed. The hardcore scares and get-under-your-skin dread aren't really on offer here. Annabelle Comes Home feels a little more lightweight and disposable than some of the other films in the Conjureverse but for us, that's partly why it works. Admittedly, it does retain it's predecessors insistence on showing us a little too much at times (CGI just doesn't do it for us in these movies) and the most effective scenes are where things are suggested at rather than shown. However, all in all, it's a really fun frightfest that proves there's still life in the old doll yet.