The Annabelle franchise is the first spinoff series in the Conjuring universe. One would assume, and rightfully so, that any studio with a popular property in the horror genre will take any opportunity they have to profit from that property. As a direct result of this decision, the quality suffers because they lack good writing, acting, and filmmaking. Sequels and spinoffs tend to be inferior versions of the original concept we once loved. Warner Bros. and James Wan are not interested in continuing that Hollywood tradition and instead choose to put story first.
The first Annabelle was not a critical success, but because the film had such a modest budget it made a remarkable profit worldwide. I actually enjoyed its intimate story of a young couple with a baby and the slight reference to the Manson family. Still the sequel was a vast improvement overall. A young orphaned girl possessed at a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. It is directed by David F. Sandberg, who went on to make Shazam!, and his style served the story well. Brilliant direction, scary moments throughout, and terrific editing. Gary Dauberman has written every Annabelle script thus far; so it must have been a no-brainer to give directing duties to him for the third installment. Although since this is his directorial debut, I was worried how that would affect the outcome. It appears I had nothing to worry about.
In Annabelle Comes Home, written and directed by Gary Dauberman, it is 1971 and the Warrens have had the Annabelle doll locked in their special room for cursed artifacts for at least a year. The events of the first Conjuring film are now in the local newspaper. Mckenna Grace plays ten-year-old Judy Warren, daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Judy has had trouble making friends in school because of the strange stories surrounding her family. Fortunately her babysitter Mary Ellen, played by Madison Iseman, is there to support her. Mary Ellen‘s best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) is also there to help, but her motives seem driven by her desire to enter the Warren’s mystery room. When Ed and Lorraine go away on a trip, Mary Ellen is tasked with keeping Judy safe for the evening. Once Daniela finds an opportunity, she sneaks into the forbidden room and, after a series of dangerous decisions, releases Annabelle from her glass case and causes a night of terror filled with spirits and demons.
The premise that was pitched to the public on this Annabelle sequel was perfect. Night at the Museum if it were a horror movie. Of course it would only work if we knew exactly what was in that room. Fortunately we are provided with a convenient scene of the girls discovering case files that detail every item they may or may not encounter later in the film. Each story would come off as a campfire tale in any other situation, but in this world it is a warning of mortal danger. And that is when the fun begins.
What I appreciated most about this film is how it took its time to get to know the characters. This is the third time we’ve seen Judy Warren on film, played by three different actresses now, and it gets us invested to see what a day in her life is like before all hell breaks loose. We also get to know more about Mary Ellen and Daniela, their friendship, and why Daniela is so interested in the Warrens and their room of cursed objects. I expected Daniela to be an acceptable victim in this film, but I was caught off guard by how much I cared for her and her well-being. It plays into what this film does so well. Subverting your expectations.
The scares are genuinely good, but not as severe as the previous sequel. It’s actually a rather fun journey that is filled with tension and involuntary adventure. The movie sets up beautifully each object and the demon or spirit associated with it. When that object demonstrates its power, it’s an exciting and suspenseful moment. The careful balance of when and where those objects appear and how they attack is rather clever. I wanted to see more and more with each object that came to life.
Annabelle Comes Home is another successful entry in the franchise and probably one of the best in the Conjuring universe overall. It doesn’t grab you as strongly from a story standpoint, but it delivers a fantastic adventure through a haunted house that several movies have prepared you for. The biggest takeaway is how important the emotional element is to the film. I cared about all the women on screen and that made me invested in not only every scary moment, but also the quiet moments of conversation. It doesn’t ever feel important in the horror genre, but I give credit whenever a director and writer make it a priority. It may be why Gary Dauberman was given the project in the first place. He wrote both scripts for the It movies as well. Madison Iseman and McKenna Grace are wonderful in this movie, but I give special kudos to Katie Sarife for bringing so much dimension to what could have been a throwaway character.
I recommend seeing this movie with a friend or two. You will have a good time and have a few laughs as well. I wasn’t sure Annabelle could be such an intriguing subject to focus an entire series of films around, but Gary Dauberman, David F. Sandberg, and John R. Leonetti have found unique ways to approach this doll without emulating each other’s work. One thing is for sure. I can’t wait for every one of the objects we see in this movie to get a film of their own. Or at least a series of short films showcasing their origin. The Conjuring universe is probably going to be around for years to come.
About Annabelle Comes Home
Director: Gary Dauberman
Writer: Gary Dauberman
Stars: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Runtime: 1 Hour, 46 Minutes