As The Conjuring universe chugs on, we now find ourselves on the 7th film in this unlikely but very lucrative franchise. The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, The Curse of La Llorona, The Nun and now Annabelle Comes Home have scared up some big business globally and it looks like more films in the series are coming. For now, Annabelle Comes Home feels like a placeholder for something bigger, with the film largely playing out like a more adult-oriented Goosebumps movie.
After the seriously underrated Annabelle: Creation – which was a prequel that brought the story of the doll nicely up to the events of the first Annabelle film, we now jump to just after the events of the first Conjuring movie. If you remember, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) took the demonic doll home (which is a vessel for demonic forces to attach itself to souls). Citing that it would be far more dangerous to destroy the doll, the Warrens have kept it under lock and key in their museum of the occult.
Going out of town for a few days, the Warrens entrust Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to look after their young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace). Whilst babysitting her, Mary Ellen’s wayward friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) shows up to the house to keep her company. But Daniela has a reckless streak, and is very curious about all of the stories she has heard about the Warrens and their treasure trove of cursed artefacts. Ignoring all of the warnings, she goes into the off-limits room and is drawn to the Annabelle doll. But she and the rest of the girls will soon find out that you should have never, ever let Annabelle out of her box.
At this point, the film became a bit too pedestrian for me. After exploring some good themes in previous movies, I found this chapter of the film to be very run-of-the-mill. There are some good visuals and scares to be had, but a lot of this is predictable and it never really goes for the jugular, seemingly happy to play by the numbers of traditional scares. There’s plenty of loud bang frights but in director Gary Dauberman’s first time behind the lens, I was expecting much more.
Dauberman has positioning himself into a key role not only in the Conjuring universe (having scripted this film along with Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation and The Nun), but by co-scripting the rebooted version of IT and its soon-to-be-seen sequel IT: Chapter 2. He knows horror and that’s perhaps why I was expecting more from his directorial debut. Instead, he opts for the old tropes but done in a way that doesn’t really extract the maximum amount of tension from its scenes.
Too many times in Annabelle Comes Homes, the horror manifests too clearly. The element of shock and surprise is lost after some good build-up. I also think his scares are too cleanly shot, not leaving any place for the viewer to fill in the blanks. One scene involves The Ferryman, a folklore stalwart that collects coins to transport souls to the afterlife. These scenes all feature people with coins on their eyes who all just look like pedestrian extras with coins on their eyes, crystal clear on camera and with nothing to make them look particularly supernatural. There’s nothing really creepy or unsettling in this, and it all just felt like a missed opportunity to conjure up some real movie magic.
The positives can be found in the casting. I wish Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga we in this a lot more but they are just bookends. Give us another proper ride with those characters because they are the heart and soul of The Conjuring Universe. Madison Iseman continues to impress after her brilliant roles in Goosebumps 2 and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and she does a lot of the film’s heavy lifting. Katie Sarife does ok but her character does way too many silly things, even within the constructs of a horror movie. Michael Cimino adds some nice, light comic relief as Bob, a local lad who fancies Mary Ellen but it’s Mckenna Grace who is the real star here. She shows a maturity far beyond her years and hands in a really strong performance. Expect great things from her in the future.
The plot is basically an 80s B-movie of what happens when kids are left to run the house when the parents are away. Then it turns into a more mature version of the Goosebumps movie with the artefacts all coming to life in some way, shape or form to scare the kids. Annabelle Comes Home is a standard horror film which won’t leave much or a mark. It’s a real shame because after the last Annabelle film I had high hopes for it. But I doubt it will derail this horror franchise too much – I just hope the filmmakers and Production Company decides to take a few more risks rather than half-bake their ideas for a quick win.
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Michael Cimino Director: Gary Dauberman Writer: Gary Dauberman, James Wan Certificate: 15 Duration: 106mins Released by: Warner Bros Release date: 10th July 2019