The universe of horror films around The Conjuring has grown and expanded like a sort of Scary MCU, with the last 12 months alone providing audiences with The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona. It has been a rocky year for the universe, which has otherwise had a pretty solid record. One of its most pleasant surprises was Annabelle: Creation in 2017, which followed up a terrible first spin-off for the titular doll with something very entertaining. Annabelle Comes Home picks up the story, and drags it straight back into the bargain bin.
Paranormal experts the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, making a proper appearance outside of the main Conjuring films for the first time) keep the artefacts they investigate locked away in a room, with the dangerous Annabelle doll kept especially shielded beneath glass from a chapel. While they go off to work on a case, they leave daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) for the night. When Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) pops by, she’s very curious about what the Warrens have hidden in their home.
Naturally, this curiosity ends very badly for the kids, and soon they’re all running around in the dark while all manner of spooks leap at them from shadowy corners. Iseman’s job is mainly to follow a breadcrumb trail of coins around the house for what seems like hours, while Sarife’s character confronts her guilt about the death of her father, or something of that ilk. Meanwhile, the immensely talented Grace – excellent alongside Chris Evans in the underseen Gifted – does almost nothing really, despite being the only paranormally-aware Warren on screen for most of the movie.
Even the Annabelle doll herself is consigned to nothingness here. She’s described by Farmiga during a first act flashback as “a beacon for other spirits”, and it’s those other spirits that appear throughout this movie while she lays mostly discarded in a grubby corner somewhere. Gary Dauberman, who has written for all of the Annabelle films as well as The Nun and both parts of It, steps into the director’s chair for the first time with Annabelle Comes Home. It really comes off as a debut feature, with flair constantly overwhelmed by ambition as creature after creature is rendered invisible by the constant darkness and murky lighting on the screen.
There’s no sense of internal logic at play, with the characters running at random around a house which seems to lack any notion of consistent geography. Dauberman and Conjuring head honcho James Wan, who gets a ‘story by’ credit, fail to present the audience with any reason to care about these characters. A lame romantic subplot involving Mary Ellen and high school friend Bob (Michael Cimino) is immensely cringe-worthy and about as believable as Boris Johnson’s marriage vows.
There’s just nothing here to suggest that anyone involved is making this for any reason beyond financial imperative. The Conjuring films are inexpensive to make and lucrative at the box office, with the franchise as a whole bringing in more than a billion dollars worldwide, so it’s in the interests of Wan and studio Warner Bros to keep the conveyor belt running. Annabelle Comes Home contains a lot of things that go bump in the night but, if you listen carefully, you can hear the cash registers pinging too.
Dir: Gary Dauberman
Scr: Gary Dauberman
Cast: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Michael Cimino
Prd: Joseph Bishara
DOP: Michael Burgess
Music: Michael Giacchino
Run time: 106 mins
Annabelle Comes Home is in UK cinemas now.