Dolls are all homicidal. We all know this. There's no denying that those hollow, dead, doll eyes are always up to something!
Back in 2013, James Wan took the world by storm with his terrifying 1970s styled haunted house throwback, The Conjuring; since then it has spawned numerous sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. Oddly enough, slowly creating a cinematic horror universe that is easily the second most successful cinematic universe after the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Most of the entries, I must confess, I have thoroughly enjoyed the absolute hell out of them. Not every single movie from this particular franchise has been a winner for me. However, more often than not, I’ve found some chilling entertainment from the movies that have sprouted out of this series. By far in a way, my favorite out of the lot still remains 2013’s The Conjuring, as I still contest to this day that it is one of the best horror films to come out in the last thirty years. On the other end of the spectrum, my least favorite thus far was undeniably the first spinoff feature in 2014, Annabelle; which was one of the dullest efforts of horror that I had seen in a while. Not necessarily a terrible movie by any means, but mediocre and underdeveloped at best.
Funny enough, the Annabelle doll was a total standout in the very first film; which resulted in a less than stellar spinoff to feature the doll as the central focus. Then after a few years, the sequel to that spinoff was released, Annabelle: Creation, a complete flip on what had come prior as the sequel actually held a fair amount of suspense and attention to character. Maybe not quite as drastic of a shift in quality as an example such as the difference between 2014’s Ouija and Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil. Regardless, there was a clear improvement made in the jump between the first two Annabelle installments that I certainly appreciated.
Now after all these years of the Conjuring franchise growing so much, I’ve come to enjoy a majority of what it has to offer. That doesn’t mean I think that it’s been entirely perfect; The Nun was more style than substance and The Curse of La Llorona was about as standard as a modern horror flick can get. Spoilers for anyone who doesn’t know that Curse of La Llorona is in the Conjuring universe… whoops! Anyways, I was a tad bit concerned that this latest installment of Annabelle Comes Home would more or less simply be a run-of-the-mill horror with nothing all that special about it. Thankfully, it’s about on par with its predecessor, Creation. Maybe even better. Solid attention to the building of suspense, interesting characters, visually creepy ghost/creature designs, an energetic haunted house tone, and a good amount of heart interjected into the themes of the story as well. I had a pretty damn fun and creepy time with this movie. Honestly, this may possibly be my favorite movie in the series since 2013.
Shortly after Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) have confiscated the Annabelle doll, encasing it within their household personal vault, strange happenings begin to occur around the Warren residence. One day while a teenage girl and her friend are babysitting the Warrens’ daughter, they unknowingly awaken the evil that is attached to the doll, releasing several of the other spirits within the family vault completely loose to reign utter supernatural madness upon these three youths.
All in a Day’s Work
Part of what I loved so much about this movie is that this all takes place in a single day. Half of which actually transpires in sunlight, rather than cutting to dusk and setting the entire narrative in darkness as most scary movies do today. This one makes an effort to craft some true suspense in the daytime, something that is rarely seen nowadays sadly and definitely is no easy feat. Annabelle Comes Home pulls that approach off extremely well, also contributing to how quick the pacing of the story goes. Rather than expanding the premise over the course of several days or weeks, similar to what the rest of the franchise has done, it condenses all the plot points and scares into the span of one whole day for the bulk of the runtime. That, to me, was a smart play and kept me engaged in what was going to happen next instead of feeling as though any padding were implemented to extend this story any further than needed.
Also, not to mention, this is hands down the best Goosebumps movie too. Elements from the recent Goosebumps movies and the ‘90s television show can be pretty easily spotted in this movie too; a small group of youngsters finds themselves all alone without any sort of parental guidance when they must face off against a paranormal entity causing a whole mess of scary shenanigans. Those tropes were something I actually really dug about this movie because it provided enough devotion to character development between these three young female leads. Cutting out any extra characters that could have distracted from these girls as the main focus was a good call. Any distraction like too many cast members would have severely hurt the picture as a whole. We, as the audience, needed to relate to these characters and invest in their arcs in order to engage in the onscreen nightmares they find themselves in. Luckily, the filmmakers behind this movie were obviously aware of that fact and committed a lot of screen time to let these characters breathe. Therefore, made me jump higher than a frightened pussy cat when the girls were in danger.
There was some devilishly creepy imagery scattered all throughout the flick, as well as some innovative ghost/demon/spirit designs that instilled real chills and actual excitement to see more in maybe future sequels. Brilliant sequences that include scares in the foreground and the background simultaneously. One of my favorite scary scenes involved a spiritually possessed television set that foreshadowed the impending doom that approached the fates of our protagonists. Another harrowing constituent were these ghosts that mostly appeared in the background with these silver dollar coins over their eyes, lurking over, yet not quite seeing the living people that were being terrorized. These specific sets of ghosts were victims of an entity known as the “Ferryman;" another inspired design that I relished. Also, there’s a pretty unsettling scene with the ghost of a murderous bride that I must say made me think about turning on the lights.
All of these disturbing figures are pretty great, my only complaint is that I wished there was more to them. So little time is actually presented onto these ghostly presences that it feels like all they’re there for is to go “boogedy boo” and then we kind of move onto the next creepy thing. Don’t get me wrong, they still were effective and I assuredly sh*t my pants at least a couple of instances because of them. I’d be lying though if I said I was fully satisfied with the end result of these ghostly antagonists. Especially with the relatively abrupt close of the climax that unfortunately deflated so much of the tension that was built up on top of these creatures and ghosts. With that said, they were still cool and performed their functions serviceably enough. Maybe I’m being selfish in asking for more rather than being content with the creepiness I was supplied. Maybe there should have been slightly more development to flesh out these movie monsters into more than simply a creepy image. Maybe there will be more spinoffs… there will likely be more spinoffs.
99% of the effects, practical and otherwise, look superb. While the CGI is certainly kept down to a minimum, there is still a small amount needed to make it all flow seamlessly. Most of which, looks solid. The makeup effects look awesome, the weird and surreal imagery looks weird and surreal in the best ways, the fog effects provided some fantastic atmosphere, and the little gore that was present also was executed flawlessly. With that said, there is one shot that stood out in all the wrong ways for me. This is a very minor spoiler, so if you want to remain completely cold on what happens in the movie then maybe skip this part of my review. Long story short, there’s one particularly awful special effect that can be seen here. When entering into the third act of the film, the spirits begin causing far more havoc on our protagonists. One of these spirits so happens to be what is referred to as a Hellhound; basically, a werewolf that materializes out of the fog. Most of the time, the Hellhound looks good and is shot well… with the exception of its introduction that contained some cartoonishly bad CGI as the Hellhound snarled into the digital camera. It was a pretty bad special effect, I’m not going to lie. That first shot of the Hellhound looked about as silly as the werewolf from 2015’s Goosebumps movie. Thankfully the CG shot was tremendously brief as it was literally no longer than three seconds. Despite the minuscule time spent on the shot, it was still a somewhat large distraction that took me out of the fear that I should have been experiencing. The effects used for the Hellhound after the fact were much better, it just had a rocky start is all.
The heart of this film solely resides in the performances of our three leads; Mckenna Grace as Judy Warren, Madison Iseman as Mary Ellen, and Katie Sarife as Daniela Rios. I adored these three and felt such a delightful warmness to the chemistry that they shared together. Mckenna Grace is an up-and-coming actress that I’ve seen quite the abundance of over the last few years; Grace does an exceptional job practically every time she’s on-screen. Handling innocence alongside maturity extraordinarily well and is virtually a pro in that department at this point. There were one or two lines that I felt were slightly forced coming from her character, although I don’t put much blame on her performance as there really wasn’t much that could have been done to make these specific lines feel all that natural anyways. The character arc’s conclusion with the Judy character was something that I found positively heartwarming, something that not many horror films allow to happen very often. Understandably so, horror films are meant to scare the audience, it was a nice change of pace to have one uplift me in a way by the end though.
The humorous thing about how I compared this movie to Goosebumps is that Madison Iseman was actually in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, a movie that I did relatively like, but overall thought that Annabelle Comes Homes was undoubtedly the stronger film. Both of which though I would say that Iseman holds her own marvelously. She’s sweet and endearing, yet doesn’t tolerate much crap from anyone. She looks like the pretty girl that everyone would be friends with in school, yet she’s believably shy and secretly has a crush on a boy from her class. Mary Ellen is an adorable character that I enjoyed the company of and the comradery she shared with her co-leads.
Katie Sarife is an actress I’m honestly not familiar with, this might be the very first film role that I have personally ever seen her in. A role that she knocked right out of the park with her genuinely charismatic yet heartbreaking performance. Seriously, she carried quite the emotional load in terms of what themes this film had to deal with when it came to her character’s inner turmoil. I won’t go too deeply into what the Daniela character is going through, but it does involve the loss of a close relative. How this movie deals with her loss and finding a way in providing her closure was definitely a major contribution to the heart this movie is filled with. There are no easy answers when it comes to death, but this movie finds a way to give these characters comfort in moving on in their lives. Something everyone sadly can relate to at some point in their lives.
Bob’s Got Balls
That was a funny ongoing joke from the movie involving Mary Ellen’s crush. Most of the humor, in my opinion, worked very well and at no point conflicted with any tone being exhibited. Even the line “Bob’s got balls," one would think it would break the intense tone somewhere. Nope, it managed to still be funny at just the right moments and spooky in all the rest. I don’t believe there were any portions that might have broken the tone with a joke or gag of some sort, I don’t recall that ever being the case, but if it did then I definitely didn’t notice.
While Ed and Lorraine Warren are definitely in the film, their screen time is moderately slimmed down to the opening act and the closing minutes. Aside from that this is strictly Grace, Iseman, and Sarife’s movie. They are the stars. If one goes in not all that open-minded about the matter, it may be best to pass on this creepy adventure for the time being. I do love Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, however, if they were included in this movie more I feel that would have cheapened what we could have gotten out of these three younger leads. Personally, I’m glad that we were able to see these three young actresses shine while we wait a little longer on Ed and Lorraine’s next cinematic chapter. Although the small portions that feature Wilson and Farmiga were utilized fantastically and even helped the morals blossom much more.
I dig it. Admittedly, I have a soft spot of creepy haunted house type movies that throw everything they can at the audience; this is no exception. The scares tend to be effective, the effects hit more than missed, the acting extraordinarily grounded this world and invested me in this story, the visuals and cinematography are stylish, the pace and build up took its time yet kept it briskly fun, and I enjoyed seeing some scares in the sunlight for a change. Annabelle Comes Home is not a masterpiece, but it is a blast and totally warrants checking out in the middle of the night for some good thrills. If this sounds like your cup of tea, I recommend seeking this one out. Especially if you are a fan of the Conjuring franchise already, this is definitely one of the better installments in the whole series. Something I am surprised and delighted to say, seeing how this is Gary Dauberman’s first directorial effort. While in the past he has shown potential in his writing, now he shows what he is capable of in the director’s chair.
That’s All Folks!
Annabelle Comes Home… Do you know how many times I accidentally typed “Annabelle Far From Home." Damn Spider-Man movie messing me all up! What did you think though? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wish a demon would rip out my insides? I hope not. Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a demon-tastic day… that sounds REALLY bad.
© 2019 John Plocar