Annabelle Comes Home (2019) Review
THE HORROR ADVENTURES OF
BABYSITTING (AT THE WARRENS)
The cinematic supernatural horrors of The Conjuring universe has plenty of spooks and scares to entice moviegoers everywhere to return with another installment after the other. Beginning back in 2013 with the original Conjuring film, the main series story thread follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and their attempts to assist people who find themselves possessed by demonic spirts, while the spin-offs films focus on the origins of some of the entities the Warrens have encountered. One such entity is in the haunted and demon possessed doll named Annabelle, which has been the spin-off endeavor in the Conjuring universe, with the release of 2014’s Annabelle and 2017’s Annabelle: Creation; offering more insight into the origins of the vile dolls and the malevolent forces that it carries within. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures (New Line Cinema) and director Gary Dauberman present the third entry in the Annabelle spin-off series with the film Annabelle Comes Home. Does the movie offer up plenty of “Conjuring” spooks within its tale or should this movie (like the Annabelle doll) be exoticized?
Claiming the demonic evil power within the doll Annabelle, demonologist / paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) have returned the possessed toy to their house, locking her up inside a glass case with specific warnings that she never be removed. A year later, Ed and Lorraine have to leave for the weekend, entrusting their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), to the care of trustworthy teenager Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). While Mary has something special planned for Judy’s upcoming birthday, her friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife) decides to join the fun; arriving at Warrens’s household unannounced. Problem is that Daniela is only more interested in snooping around the house, ending up inside the locked basement room where Ed and Lorraine keep all their cursed artifacts. Making contact with Annabelle and leaving her case open, Daniela releases evil inside the dwelling, forcing her to confront her darkest fear. Likewise, Judy and Mary Ellen battle against invading specters and ghoulish apparitions, coming face to face with Annabelle’s need to claim a soul of her own.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated in several other blog review posts, I’m not much of a fan of horror movies. Nothing is wrong with them, but they aren’t exactly my “cup of tea” (give an action or animated movies any day). Recently, however, I’ve beginning to watch several horror movies and have become to appreciate them a bit more. This, of course, extends to the Conjuring universe, which have seeing all of the installments. Like many franchises out there, this shared supernatural horror cinematic universe has had its highs (i.e. The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2) and their lows (i.e. The Curse of La Llorona); finding the Annabelle movies to somewhere in-between. Sure, the Annabelle doll (in the movies) is creepy as hell and certainly does bring a sense supernatural thrills that go “bump” in the night (to the feature’s proceedings), but some of the storytelling elements and the overall shaping of the cinematic tale fall a little bit short, especially when comparison to the main Conjuring story thread elements. At least that’s in my opinion. In the end, while still not the biggest fan of horror movies, I do like watching The Conjuring universe, exploring the fun ghoulish sandbox that this horror franchise has to offer.
As to be expected, this brings me back to talking about Annabelle Comes Home, the third entry in the Annabelle series and the seventh installment in the Conjuring universe. Trying to keep up with this cinematic horror franchise, I read (via online) that there was gonna be another Conjuring movie (i.e. Conjuring 3) as well as a third Annabelle feature. A few months later, I read that both Wilson and Farmiga were gonna reprise their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren in the movie as well, which definitely interested me. To me, the Annabelle movies were okay, but this new movie (judging from the film’s marketing campaign and promos works) looked to be more promising than the others, especially since it takes place when the Warrens are in possession of the doll. So, continuing my trend of watching horror movies (and reviewing them), I decided to see Annabelle Comes Home….curious to see how the movie will ultimately play out. What did I think of it? Well, I think it was better than what I was expecting it to be, but it definitely could’ve been better. Annabelle Comes Home definitely has it’s “horror heart” in the right place in its narrative and characters, but the execution of it all leaves more to be desired than what it is presented.
Annabelle Comes Home is directed by Gary Dauberman, who makes his directorial feature film debut with this project. While he doesn’t have past credibility of being in the director’s chair, Dauberman certainly does have knowledge of the Conjuring cinematic universe, with his work on Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, and The Nun as a story / screenplay writer. It was probably for this reason why Dauberman was selected to direct Annabelle Comes Home, with his knowledge of horror supernatural elements that breed within the shared franchise of interconnected motion pictures. In this regard, Dauberman is an admirable choice and certainly finds his “groove” (or rather the “Conjuring groove”) by making the film find his supernatural ghouls come alive within the feature’s presentation; allowing the evil beacon of the Annabelle doll to take center stage within the Warren’s house as she (the doll) demands to find a soul. It definitely works and does provide a chilling aspect, especially since the Annabelle doll is so super creepy looking as Dauberman stages several horror filled moments to terrorize the youngster in the house (i.e. Judy, Mary Ellen, and Daniela). Along with directing, Dauberman also handles the screenplay for the film as well (as to be expected…given his background), with a story by Conjuring director James Wan. While Wan’s story is there and indeed speaks to the cinematic franchise of the past, the screenplay by Dauberman also as some of the fundamentals of grieving and of isolation, which certainly do play perfectly well within in this macabre cinematic universe of horror creatures and paranormal beings. Additionally, the script also plays around the idea of new supernatural ghouls that make their appearance into the Conjuring movies, including the Ferryman, the Bride, the cursed Samurai armor, and the Hellhound. While most of the ghost entities play a minor antagonist role in the movie, it’s definitely a nice idea for some possible new supernatural enemies in the future installments.
Production-wise, the movie does feel appropriately design and presented to be like akin to the other Conjuring installments, which is a good thing. The house of Warrens has been featured before in the franchise, but Annabelle Comes Home makes the dwelling the central setting piece for majority of the film, juxtaposing suburban life of the house with the ghoulish supernatural spirits that lie within the locked basement that break out. So, the efforts made by Jennifer Spence (production design) and Lisa Son (set decorations) are very good and do help build the film’s background pleasing and workable for the movie’s narrative, while Michael Burgess (cinematography) does give the feature enough slick moments (here and there) to make Annabelle Comes Home’s scare moments feel cinematically stylish and fun. There are usage of a few visual CG scenes and, while not horrible, could’ve been utilized a bit more, especially since the effect shots were needed to bring some of the supernatural apparitions to life on-screen. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Joseph Bishara, is pretty good and has a certain spooky tension / macabre melody that elevate certain sequences within horror thrills.
Despite the titular doll once again taking stage as the primary villain (and real spook from the get-go), there are a few problems the Annabelle Comes Home can’t shake off. Perhaps the one that many will probably finding problematic is in how much the film is a “slow burner” type endeavor. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a “slow burner” as several “slower paced” films are some of my personal favorites (i.e. Ex Machina and Bad Times at the El Royale), but the end “reward” of the movie’s narrative needs to be palpable and entertaining to match the natural slower progression of the story. Annabelle Comes Home, while definitely intriguing, just comes up short in this regard. The first half of the film (i.e. the entire first and half of the second act) feels very much like a slow burner, but doesn’t have much entertainment weight behind it, which makes this portion of the movie rather boring and uninteresting. Naturally, Dauberman does this part to “build up” the anticipation moments of the Annabelle doll to unleash the supernatural entities and preying upon Judy, Mary Ellen, and Daniela. Things to pick up in the latter half of the film and does a pretty good job, but getting to this particular point is more of a “drudge” rather than a well-earned cinematic journey…. even for a horror endeavor. In short, I think that the first half of the movie is rather dull and could’ve been better handled.
Also, the film’s horror moments, though staged well, weren’t as scare as something I was expecting from a Conjuring movie. I mean, I kind of was expecting more, especially since Annabelle Comes Home was supposed to be a “titular” point for the possessed doll to unleash the ghoulish nightmare of the three adolescents within the house. Ideas are good, but I wasn’t super scared by all the spectral ghosts and horrors that play throughout the film like I did was in the two Conjuring movies. Plus, the movie’s climatic ending point seems a bit rushed and anti-climactic (sort of speak). Maybe Dauberman’s inexperience as a director plays a part in the feature’s problem areas or maybe his dual roles of the film’s director and screenplay writer. Personally, I think it’s a bit of mixture of both. He’s definitely talented and knows the Conjuring world (and all its horror ghoulish complexities), but doesn’t have the same nuances that say that James Wan has in the Conjuring movies.
Additionally, since this movie takes place as a somewhat “in-between” side story within the Conjuring movies, it has that inconsequential feeling throughout. Yes, the narrative being told is something intriguing and Dauberman’s script has plenty of themes within its characters, but the narrative, much like a lot of the Conjuring spin-off endeavors, doesn’t give much insight nor add anything new to this expansive horror cinematic universe. Much like what I said about The Curse of La Llorona, the Conjuring universe needs more innovative and creative juices within its franchise, which has been growing a bit stale. Annabelle Comes Home is a step in the right direction, but still has a lot of room for improvement within its undertaking.
The cast in Annabelle Comes Home is rather small…. more so than any other Conjuring related movies within the franchise, but that doesn’t mean that the characters (and acting talents behind) are that less effective. To be quite honest, the characters in this movie are probably more fleshed and / or wholesome than say some of the characters in the Conjuring spin-off endeavors. While young actress Sterling Jerins played the character of Judy Warren in the first two Conjuring movies, young actress Mckenna Grace (Gifted and Troop Zero) places the character of Judy in this movie. The character of Judy (in the Conjuring movies) was more of a minor side-character, but in Annabelle Comes Home, the character is brought up to be more of a main actor (one of three leads). Thus, the character of Judy does get fleshed out (more so than before) and Grace certainly does have the right acting talents to make her iteration of the character to be compelling; a personality of being quiet reserved, but also having the knowledge / gumption of the supernatural horrors of her parent’s work.
Behind Grace’s Judy is the character of Mary Ellen, Judy’s babysitter in the film and who is played by actress Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween). Iseman does a good job in the role, acting as the sort of “adult” figure centerpiece for the feature that gets caught up in movie’s supernatural events. The last of the main trio leads is in the character of Daniela Rios, Mary Ellen’s friend and who is played by actress Katie Sarife (Youth & Consequences and Teen Spirit). The character is somewhat of a “catalyst” for the main plot of the film, but definitely has the most heartfelt / scared moments in the feature, with Sarife given a wholesome performance in both of the regards.
With the movie focusing on the primary on those trio of characters, the only new minor character that plays a minor supporting role in the main narrative storyline is in the character of Bob Palmeri (a fellow classmate to Mary and Daniela). Played by actor Michael Cimino (Dog Days and Walk the Prank), Bob (or rather “Balls” or “Bob got Balls”) is an okay character for the movie. Cimino’s acting is fine, but he is merely just a “cog in the machine” for the feature and doesn’t have much impact beyond a few sequences. Basically, the character could’ve been eliminated from the movie entirely and his absence wouldn’t disturb the overall main storyline of the film. The movie’s trailers and marketing campaign showcases that The Conjuring main characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are played by actor Patrick Wilson (Aquaman and Watchmen) and actress Vera Farmiga (The Departed and Godzilla: King of the Monsters) would be in Annabelle Comes Home and they are, but are, more or less, window dressing for the feature by bookending their appearances.
Ed and Lorraine Warren are “out of town” for the weekend, leaving their daughter, babysitter, and her friend home alone with the doll Annabelle released from her glass case and causing supernatural mischief in the film Annabelle Comes Home. Director Gary Dauberman directorial debut film certainly makes a splash within the Conjuring universe, setting the film within the Warren’s dwelling and letting the possessed doll wreak havoc on those who venture in the suburban house. The movie does struggle in its pacing (as a slow-burner) first half and not as ghoulishly frightening as it could’ve been (as well as not being that important in the grand “Conjuring” narrative scheme), but certainly does provide some horror fun within its nuances and haunted objects as well as given some strong character builds (and some good acting performances) from its cast. Personally, I thought that this movie was somewhere between okay and good. It sure had my attention and deliver the story it wanted to tell, but it could’ve been better handled and more enticingly entertaining within its horror elements. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is both an “recommended” for fans of the Conjuring franchise as well as an “iffy choice” for the causal moviegoers out there, for some might like it, while others not. It’s definitely a better spin-off endeavor than the previous film (i.e. The Curse of La Llorona), but not quite there as some of the other entries. Still, it will be interesting to see where the next film (The Conjuring 3) will take the franchise, with the idea (and possibly a good one) to leave the Annabelle doll in her glass case in the Warren’s basement for some time. In the end, Annabelle Comes Home plays very much like its timeline setting in the Conjuring universe, somewhere “in-between” the best and worst that the supernatural cinematic world has to “conjure up for horror entertainment.
3.4 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy-Choice)
Released On: June 26th, 2019
Reviewed On: July 5th, 2019
Annabelle Comes Home is 106 minutes long and is rated R for horror violence and terror