'Annabelle Comes Home' Review
Director: Gary Dauberman
Cast: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Michael Cimino, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Okay. Here’s the thing. Before going to see Annabelle Comes Home, I did read and see a number of some very harsh and negative reviews, which helped to lower my expectations. There’s also the fact that I’m not a fan of the previous Annabelle movies. The trailer, however, made this look more like The Conjuring 3 instead of Annabelle 3, although since the actual third Conjuring movie isn’t due until next year, I guess this could stand out as The Conjuring 2.5. Even so, with the promise of the Warrens returning for another dark cinematic adventure, my expectations were reasonably low for this film.
And God help me, I kinda liked it.
Let’s get one thing straight, Annabelle Comes Homes has its share of flaws. Characters behave foolishly at times, investigating strange shadows and noises in places where there shouldn’t be any. One character is chased by a hellhound into the Warren’s chicken coop and is not seen or heard from again for at least a half an hour (although he does show up later to scare off a demon with an acoustic guitar). And I seriously doubt you can effectively perform an exorcism on a possessed girl by playing a film reel of someone successfully performing an exorcism. To think, Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) could have performed the exorcism in the first Conjuring movie quite easily if he had a film projector and a recording of his previous exorcism on his person.
There’s also not much of a plot here (I know it sounds like I don’t like the movie. Just...bear with me). The movie opens reminding us of how the Warrens came to get their hands on the Annabelle doll from the two nurses, and then cuts to one year later. The main character this time is actually Ed and Lorraine’s (Vera Farmiga) daughter Judy (a very good Mckenna Grace), who’s being babysat by senior Mary Ellem (Madison Iseman) while Ed and Lorraine go off on another case (they’re not in the movie for very long at all), so close to Judy’s birthday. Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) drops by, curious about the house once she learns what it is the Warrens do. Later, she’ll break into the “museum” of cursed artifacts, and we assume it’s because she’s just another rebellious teen punk. We later learn that she has some very personal reasons for her curiosity in the supernatural.
The first part of the movie focuses on the three young girls, their personal lives, and their interactions with each other and the boys they like. Judy is an outsider at school because of what the papers print about her parents, and because she has a similar gift as her mother, she too sees spirits (although in a nice turn, some of them turn out to be friendly and helpful). Mary Ellen has a crush on the goofy grocery store cashier Bobby (Michael Cimino), and there are some genuinely sweet moments when he stops by the house and tries to woo her, Say Anything style, by singing for her on the front lawn. Daniela is the older sister of the boy who bullies Judy at school, although she develops a fondness for the young girl that leads to some tender moments between the two.
While there wasn’t much of a plot to connect these scenes together, I enjoyed the way they were acted and written. Mary Ellen is a pretty nondescript character, but that might be the point. She’s just an average girl who likes the cute guy at the grocery store and earns money by babysitting, and Iseman is very natural and likable in the role. Sarife is given a much more complex character to play, but she pulls it off, and while I was afraid she was going to be one of those irritating horror movie characters you want to see die in the earlier scenes, she did eventually emerge as a very sympathetic character. Judy is the most established character out of the three, and Grace is a very effective replacement for Sterling Jerins (who was Judy in the first two Conjuring movies), doing a better job in creating a well-rounded character than dare I say Jerins did.
This is, of course, a horror movie, and lots of over-the-top funhouse horror movie shenanigans happens when Daniela breaks into the museum and touches every single artifact in there. This unleashes a horde of new evil entities, including a creepy Ferryman who puts coins over the eyes of the dead, a ghastly woman in a bloody wedding dress with a knife she’s all too eager to use, a demonic hellhound that approaches its victims inside a preternatural fog, an evil little girl who keeps asking to play with the titular doll, and a demon who’s looking to claim somebody’s soul. This leads to a number of creative set-pieces, including a bit involving a TV that shows you five seconds into the future and Mary Ellen’s eerie trip into the Ferryman’s domain.
The movie was written and directed by Gary Dauberman, who wrote the previous Annabelle movies, and has learned most (not all) of his mistakes from them. The dialogue is much more natural sounding than the terrible lines from the first film, and he thankfully eschews the unnecessary gore scenes from the second. He goes for a more atmospheric-driven approach, and with the help of cinematographer Michael Burgess, creates an elegantly spooky looking film. There are also the requisite jump scares, but not as many as you would think. Dauberman works to build tension through elegant compositions and a sublime use of shadows and fog (And for anyone who asks why the fog machine was turned on in the house, it’s because of the myriad of evil spirits inside--duh!). One shot that got me, for some reason, happened when Bobby visits Mary Ellen and we see an ominous looking shadow coming up from behind him. It is, of course, something totally innocent, but still. It got to me...for reasons even I can't explain.
There is also a good dose of humor to lighten the mood, the best of which involves a doofus of a pizza delivery guy. What I really appreciated about Annabelle Comes Home is that, like the first two Conjuring movies, it shows a great deal of reverence for Warrens and their faith. It’s a credit to Dauberman that the many talks about the afterlife do not in any way sound hokey, which can sometimes happen in movies like this. I also appreciated the final scene between Lorraine and Daniela, as well as the tribute to Lorraine (who died this year) before the end credits started to roll. Annabelle Comes Home is the weakest of the movies that feature the Warrens, but the best in the Annabelle series. If the filmmakers put as much effort into the third Conjuring movie as was put in this one, it could very well be a movie worth looking forward to.
I mean, I hope they put as much as the first two Conjuring films, but still.
Rated R for disturbing violent images and scary scenes. To be honest, it’s pretty mild for an R rated horror movie, but if it works, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)