REVIEW: Annabelle Comes Home (2019)


“Miss me?”

With barely two years passed since the surprisingly excellent sequel, “Annabelle: Creation” and a scant half decade of life for the franchise, the titular deadly doll has finally come home to haunt the family of Ed and Lorraine Warren on their own turf; namely their room filled with possessed property, accursed items and hellish home goods (yet somehow still missing the free Frogurt.)

As the origin of “Annabelle” has already been thoroughly dissected in the initial duo of films, the team behind it were wise to allow the very familiar audience to enjoy her and the other demonic denizens of The Menagerie of Misfit Toys to terrorize the Warren’s young daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) and her babysitters Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and Daniela (Katie Sarife) instead of recycling the same ol’ doll parts. Of course, as is par for the course, “Annabelle Comes Home” can’t resist circling back to the original “The Conjuring” introduction of Annabelle but it’s mercifully brief as we witness her removal by the Warrens and the power of her evil from the onset as eerie, unsettling happenings mar their drive home.  Their stay is short lived as Ed and Lorraine are called to duty again and the demon that dwells within Annabelle does not waste in time in seducing Daniela to free her and the infestation overtakes.

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The Conjuring Universe is well known for being jump scare city and while “Annabelle Comes Home” is populated with more than a few, this entry is 1970s not simply in setting but also in the spirit of the horror films that dominated that era. There is a shockingly high amount of slow burn sequences without dialogue, music or cues; they are given license to let the viewer sink into the environment, absorbing the macabre motifs and general unease. “Annabelle Comes Home” doesn’t offer anything fans haven’t seen before but critics quick to write the series off as a one trick pony might something more of substance here and in the previous installment. Horror films usually mine their greatest gold from having the audiences empathize with the characters and all present here are genuine and adept at evoking those emotions. This is largely due to the small cast (especially when compared to the massive ensemble for “Annabelle: Creation”) with only four principal and very likable characters (the aforementioned trio are joined sporadically by delightful interludes featuring Mary Ellen’s love interest Thomas (Stephen Blackeheart), a deadringer for a young Patrick Wilson’s portrayal of Ed Warren.

Bogging down the runtime and bloating the picture as a whole is that The Conjuring Universe, in its eternal desire to increase and grow into a cottage industry is having too many “big bads” as the Buffyverse would say and not focusing on a singular force with perhaps a secondary antagonist the original Scooby Gang was most famous for.  Annabelle is queen but we are introduced to a slew of others that really begins to overwhelm. It’s difficult to cast blame or any aspersions with so much potential material piquing viewers interest in preceding features allowing many long glimpses into the Warren stronghold. The couple that work really well compete with more than a few who don’t and small set pieces run roughshod over the standout specters. It would also do the series producers well to be reminded that nearly four years after his debut, “The Crooked Man” still hasn’t received a standalone title but with “The Nun” being the highest grossing spinoff yet, it wouldn’t out of the question for it to still be on the cinematic stove top.

 “Annabelle Comes Home” and the series as a whole has always harbored shades of a siege movie, rather than simply a horror film, especially the ending here. All of the films feature a largely enclosed environment, the classic haunted house formula but this entry goes full force, the vice turning ever so slowly until there is no escape. Thankfully there is some reprieve with the humor that has been so integral in making the Conjuring Universe feel inviting and real. The love and warmth of the Warrens always shines through even though their appearances here are but humble bookends; can’t recall hearing the classic “Family Theme” coda from composer Mark Isham in “Annabelle Comes Home” but the same emotions manifest when the onscreen magic of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga appears.

Longtime fans of the franchise will feel right at home with “Annabelle” and fickle critics may have some fun given the chance. “Annabelle: Creation” is arguably the high point to date but this third act shows that the doll whose glass prison warning is “positively do not open” is a Pandora’s Box that deserves more than a peek.

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Annabelle Comes Home

Directed by Gary Dauberman