EXPECTATIONS: Low as the height of the doll.
REVIEW: Annabelle Comes Home is the seventh entry in The Conjuring universe and to be quite honest, it’s quite unbelievable that such an established cinematic universe even exists. When you consider that it is based on true stories via the cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the idea of such a franchise sounds absurd. Nevertheless, we are up to the third entry in the Annabelle series and its latest entry will be the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, the main writer of the series as well as other horror films.
If one were to pre-judge due to the Dauberman’s work output, expectations would be pretty low. His contributions are middling at best, due to his efforts in such problematic efforts like the first Annabelle film, the underwhelming shocker The Nun and the terribly horrific Wolves at the Door. He also has contributed in good films such as the improved prequel Annabelle: Creation and the huge horror hit Stephen King adaptation It. Will Annabelle Comes Home be the hit for Dauberman that is both successful financially and critically?
The story takes place between the opening scene and the main plot of the first Conjuring film, as demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) bring back the demonic Annabelle doll to their locked artifacts room in their home, placing her in containment behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest’s holy blessing.
But the terror will no longer be contained as an impulsive decision from a certain someone inadvertently unleashes the power of Annabelle, leaving the Warrens’ ten-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), and her babysitters (Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife) to become the targets of her wrath, in a long, torturous night of horror.
Annabelle Comes Home is a pleasant surprise and is the most fun entry in The Conjuring series. While it may not be as eventful, serious or vast as the best entries, it is that very small nature that makes it the most likable. The story take its time to set up the action due to amusing diversions (courtesy of Sarife’s character) and establishing characterizations and horror devices (which some are intriguing enough to have their own movie), but when the spookiness gets loose, it becomes a lot of fun.
Director Dauberman dials back on the amount of loud noises (which have become so prevalent in prior films, they have become a punchline) and the use of Joseph Bishara‘s score (which makes a true impact when it does pop up) and takes his time in allowing the tension and geography of the settings (thanks to Kirk Morri‘s fluid editing) to be immersed before he unleashes the terror; which results in great payoffs eg. the use of a projector. The integration of corny, yet amusing humour and fun into the mix is much better handled (unlike last year’s The Nun), as the film is able to capture the innocent vibe of children’s adventure stories and implement them into its terrifying story.
It helps that a small, young cast of only four characters (and two welcome cameos from Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) lend enthusiasm and heart to their characters. Mckenna Grace is a talent that continues to rise in every film since her leading performance in the drama Gifted, and her work as Judy Warren in Annabelle Comes Home is stellar; as she stands out in her solid, grounded presence due to her handling of the dramatic and horrific moments in the film. Madison Iseman (last seen in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween) provides welcome support as Judy’s caring and supportive babysitter, Mary Ellen; while Michael Cimino (not the acclaimed filmmaker) is amusingly ballsy as the boy next door, Bob, who has a crush on Mary Ellen.
But the biggest standout is Katie Sarife, who does very well in the difficult role as the meddlesome instigator who is the catalyst of the spooky hijinks. For the audience to care about the character, there must be some sort of believable reasoning as to why she makes that decision. Fortunately, thanks to Dauberman’s writing and Sarife’s performance, her character of Daniela has the best character arc in the film; which is surprisingly heartfelt.
While those who are expecting a more visceral entry in The Conjuring franchise may be a bit disappointed, Annabelle Comes Home is a very entertaining diversion from the dour tone of the prior entries that compensates its understated pacing with good old-fashioned fun, spirited performances, plentiful horror hijinks and a surprising amount of heart. Recommended.
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Cast: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Stephen Blackeheart, Steve Coulter, Samara Lee, Paul Dean, Joseph Bishara
Director: Gary Dauberman
Screenwriters: Gary Dauberman, James Wan