Annabelle Comes Home Movie Review: A welcome return to form for the Conjuring universe
Clever writing and great acting mark the latest entry into the horror franchise
Following the horrific The Nun and the less than stellar The Curse of La Llorana, I wondered if weariness had crept into the relentless horror machine that is The Conjuring universe. Those were the fifth and sixth instalments of what seemed well on the way to becoming yet another bloated horror franchise. But thankfully, Annabelle Comes Home is a welcome return to form, one that provides a good dose of horror and laughter as well as a direction forward.
Cast: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife
Director: Gary Dauberman
The Conjuring first introduced us to the creepy doll Annabelle with the lines, "It scares us just thinking about it." The doll would go on to play an important role in the movie before spawning a franchise of its own. The two Annabelle films that followed the first one were prequels that established the backstory and the importance of the doll. Fans who were waiting to see what happened to Annabelle after the events of the first film, finally get to see that now with Annabelle Comes Home, which takes place three years after the events of The Conjuring.
Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) open the film by performing a blessing before shutting Annabelle away inside the glass case which we have now come to associate with her. They however have to keep going away out of town to solve other ghostly problems and this leaves their young daughter, Judy (a wonderful McKenna Grace) home alone on weekends. Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) is the perfect good-hearted babysitter hired by the Warrens for Judy. Mary's friend Daniela Rios (Katie Sarife) is a mischievous friend of Mary's, who wonders if the Warrens are 'heroes or hoax' — as a newspaper headline claims — and tries to pry into the life of Judy. Then there is Bob Palmeri (Michael Cimino), who has a crush on Mary and lives opposite to the Warrens' household.
This perfect recipe for a teen comedy is instead used by debutant director Gary Dauberman (the writer of Annabelle films) as a horror home-invasion movie, and to his credit, the film largely works. One of the biggest reasons has to be the depth he provides to some of these characters, hitherto unseen in The Conjuring franchise. Judy is blessed with 'the sight' like her mother, and this, along with her being the daughter of demonologists, makes her schoolmates shun and bully her. The child thus suffers from loneliness. Similarly, Daniela's backstory adds depth to her characters and makes us sympathise with her even when she does things later in the film that might make us more critical. You don't normally get to praise actors in horror films but Mckenna Grace and Katie Sarife deserve it for playing these characters really well.
The writing is also neat for a horror film. Why Annabelle as a doll cannot be destroyed is established early in the film and the writing stays true to such rules that it sets for itself. The writing is quite relentless as it needs to be for a film set in the confines of a house with such a limited cast. The art direction too largely aids in this aspect: the artifacts room comes alive in the film, and the house, rooms and spaces have been perfectly used. Most of these artifacts could lead to spin-off films in their own right down the line, but for me, I wish for one particular artifact, a TV that predicts the future, to have a film of its own. When we do know what is going to happen, yet we are surprised by how it unfolds, credit definitely has to go to the writing team.
The domino and snowball effect that is the hallmark of The Conjuring franchise is part of this film too, but at the same time, it also suffers from the same issue plaguing all the spin-offs — that of an unremarkable final third and climax. I do not know if this is because of an overdose of horror films in recent times or the nature of the scares themselves. This film doesn't reinvent the horror franchise like Us, Get Out or Hereditary but then again, given the remarkably modest aims this film has, and how much it has respected the genre, I think it can be given a pass.
The father when he blesses Annabelle, before locking her away, says, "Wise shall inherit the glory but shame shall be the promotion of fools." Annabelle, the doll, has inherited much of the glory of the spin-off franchises and that is because of how wisely it has been constructed. Annabelle Comes Home, has given a much needed fillip to the sagging franchise and she has truly brought horror home.