Annabelle Comes Home Review
If you look at the progression of Annabelle as a character across her place in The Conjuring Universe films, it really doesn't make much sense. First, we saw her in The Conjuring in a dramatic recreation of what was more or less the “real” story as it happened, a group of nursing students were tormented by the doll before it came into the ownership of Ed and Lorraine Warren, but she shows up later again in the movie because, hey, she’s on some of the posters so might as well.
Then over the course of the two Annabelle movies we get a story of a demon inhabiting two different but coincidentally identical dolls as part of a long-term plan to gain human souls. You got all that? Now we have Annabelle Comes Home, a spin off much closer to the main films in The Conjuring series in that we go back to the Warren house.
Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace), daughter of demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren is having a hard time at school, considered strange by her peers and beginning to see the same entities as her medium mother, and is just looking forward to a fun night with her favourite babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Then, Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) breaks some of the golden rules of the Warren house: don’t go into the artefact room, don’t touch anything in there, and especially don’t interact with Annabelle.
The movie starts with a shot that may look familiar, because it’s also the first shot of both The Conjuring and the first Annabelle movie. It tells you right away that this is all familiar territory. There’s no intricate plot here, it’s all just set-up for the scares of the usual “quiet then loud” formula, but there are a few moments of something quietly sinister happening in the background that are effective.
It’s entertaining and moderately scary, but in a safe way. Probably odd to say that about a 15/R rated movie, but it is; it’s not overly demanding in terms of the plot, and the scares are standard but fun, like a fun carnival ghost train. Taking you through everything and at the end you come out no worse for wear. It’s not going to stay with you, but you’ll have a good time while it’s happening. Maybe this is because Annabelle the doll as an entity doesn’t entirely work because she’s so obviously evil looking that any sane person would take one look at that doll and be on the next bus to the other side of the country.
The real Annabelle is a Raggedy Ann doll, which fair enough they probably can’t use for copyright reasons, which honestly is a little creepier; this idea of a very innocent looking toy holding such a malevolent spirit. Raggedy Ann dolls have featured in all three Annabelle movies as a reference, which amuses me as it’s almost as if the real Annabelle is haunting her own movies.
The Warrens’ room of haunted and possessed objects functions not unlike the basement from that scene in The Cabin in the Woods, where interacting with certain objects triggers a certain monster, and just like in The Cabin in the Woods we get to see them all let loose. A few items are given very brief backstories, although only the werewolf is based on anything from one of the real Warren cases, but the rest are just there to function for a scare or two, leaving us to wonder what happened for a TV, a typewriter, a board game, and a piano to end up in that room. They’re all cool ideas, I just want to know the stories behind them. The monkey toy doesn’t need a backstory though, everybody knows those are evil.
The Conjuring Universe has now been built up to seven films, mostly spin-offs from the main films. First Annabelle, then The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona with The Crooked Man spin-off currently in production along with The Conjuring 3. The Nun and The Crooked Man were introduced in The Conjuring 2 in a way that felt very forced and artificial, like they were only added for the purpose of later making spin-off movies about them rather than because they fit the story being told. The cynical part of me feels that a similar thing is being done here with the non-Annabelle entities featured, setting them up so that another movie can be made if this one makes enough money. I don’t want to be right, but if we hear in the next month or so that The Ferryman, The Bride, Black Shuck, or Samurai are going into production I will not be surprised.
The cast are fine, Mary Ellen and Daniela are typical teenage girls who are likeable enough that I didn’t want to see either of them die horribly. Mary Ellen has a little crush on a neighbour boy, who also gets drawn into the horror, while Daniela’s actions have an emotional motive. Her interest in the Warrens and their work is out of a desire to reconnect to a recently deceased loved one, which is a lot more sympathetic than just plain curiosity. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson continue to be extremely endearing as Ed and Lorraine that you just feel safe and happy when they’re on screen, however briefly.
Young actress Mckenna Grace, who has most recently been seen in the Netflix Series The Haunting of Hill House and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, is wonderful as the young Judy Warren, played in The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 by Sterling Jerins. She is the emotional heart of the film, displaying sweet innocence but also a heaviness dealing with the supernatural as part of her everyday life and the affect that has. You really feel for her and want to see her get through the horrors, and without her the movie would just be like any other horror depicting teenagers making bad decisions.
Annabelle Comes Home takes place on a night of babysitting, and it’s the kind of movie I would have watched while babysitting after the kids had been put to bed, or at a sleepover with friends. It’s a good film for any time that you want an entertaining - not demanding - sort of horror, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.