Annabelle Comes Home review: A charming horror with a spin-the-wheel approach to scares
The film avoids the kind of self-seriousness that’s made some of the other films in The Conjuring franchise feel like such a drag
Dir: Gary Dauberman. Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Iseman, Mckenna Grace, Katie Sarife, and Michael Cimino. 15, 105 mins
Annabelle Comes Home is technically the seventh film in The Conjuring universe. That doesn’t say a lot. While most franchises prefer to build up a series of interconnected films that rely on a single, overarching narrative (think Marvel or DC), The Conjuring is really only a cinematic universe because its makers say so. While initially meant to be a series based around the case files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Lorraine died in April of this year and Annabelle Comes Home is dedicated to her memory), the films have strayed further and further from that path.
This year’s The Curse of La Llorona’s only connection was a single side character who appeared in 2014’s Annabelle, itself a spin-off featuring a cursed doll that briefly appeared in 2013’s The Conjuring. This film is now the second direct sequel to Annabelle. If it all sounds a little confusing, rest assured that those behind this franchise don’t care. These are horror movies. All they’re concerned with is giving people a good scare, whatever the premise.
Thankfully, the Warrens themselves (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) actually make an appearance here, although all they really bring along is false hope. Annabelle Comes Home doesn’t come close to replicating the smart, Gothic-tinged scares that kicked off the entire franchise in the first place. Yet, neither is the film a complete chore, offering its very own brand of ghoulish fun. The trick here is in the premise, the focus being on the Warrens’s young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace, whose roles in Captain Marvel, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and The Haunting of Hill House have made her one of Hollywood’s new go-to child actors). She’s managed to inherit her mother’s ability to commune with the dead, all while her parents’ occupation has made her rather unpopular on the playground. No one wants to come to her birthday party because they’re “not ready to process death”. Ah well, more cake for the ghosts.
Ed and Lorraine have headed off on an overnight trip, leaving Judy in the care of their regular babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). She’s a stickler for rules and has always been discreet about the fact their basement is filled with cursed and possessed artefacts. Distinctly less mindful is her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife), who’s fixated on the supernatural and immediately sneaks into the Warrens’s forbidden room, letting Annabelle out of her glass containment box (heavily blessed and made of cathedral window panes) and allowing all hell to break loose.
The thing is, Annabelle isn’t exactly the easiest horror villain to work with, considering all she can do is sit there. Or at most, sit in a place you weren’t expecting her to be sitting. She doesn’t have any of the mobility of Chucky. It’s an issue that the last two Annabelle films have tried to tackle with varying success. Both were written by Gary Dauberman, who has not only returned to write but also makes his directorial debut. What he makes clear here, more than ever, is that Annabelle is not possessed, but a conduit. As the Warrens put it, she’s “a beacon for other spirits”. So when she’s unleashed on the Warren family home, she becomes the conductor of a whole symphony of ghostly goings-ons. There’s a haunted samurai suit, a haunted telegraph, a haunted weather vane, and a haunted copy of the Milton Bradley board game Feeley Meeley. A werewolf even joins in on the fun, though he’s busy out in the yard, chasing after Mary Ellen’s sweet-natured, dorky crush Bob (Michael Cimino).
Admittedly, the film has a hard time resisting the more obvious tropes of horror (there are multiple instances of people getting dragged along the floor by invisible forces), but there’s a lot of charm to be found in its spin-the-wheel, pick-a-ghost approach to scares. There’s a new monster around every corner, and the film avoids the kind of self-seriousness that’s made some of the other films in the franchise, including The Nun, feel like such a drag.
That’s only amplified by its young cast, who all have a Disney Channel-esque sheen to them, and the fact the plot is structured like an old TV sitcom – the kids better clean this mess up before mum and dad get home! Annabelle Comes Home may not chill you to the bone, but it’s akin to the old-school thrills of a trip through a carnival’s creaky, old haunted house. And that’s exactly the kind of fun we need every once in a while.
Annabelle Comes Home is released in UK cinemas on 12 July