The following is a review of Annabelle Comes Home — Directed by Gary Dauberman.
The lesson Hollywood first learned from the Marvel Cinematic Universe was to rush into these grand connected universes of films. The DC Cinematic Universe almost crashed and burned. The Godzilla-King Kong connected universe of films is currently struggling. Meanwhile, the Universal Monsters so-called ‘Dark Universe’ never really got off the ground. Surprisingly, the attempt to copy the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe that has worked the best has been the Ed and Lorraine Warren-inspired Conjuring Cinematic Universe.
Thanks to two incredible films about the two aforementioned famous paranormal investigators from director James Wan and one shoddy but popular doll-focused spin-off film, this horror movie universe made a name for itself. Since then, the series has had a tough time. Though Annabelle Creation was a solid prequel that showcased the talents of a young filmmaker, both The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona were disastrous films that only managed to tarnish the series’ reputation. Annabelle Comes Home, the third film in this fairly uneven spin-off trilogy, is the directorial debut of It and The Nun-screenwriter Gary Dauberman, and, even though Dauberman’s debut isn’t the homerun hit I anticipated, its gimmicky concept is easy to enjoy for those who have love for these films.
Gary Dauberman’s Annabelle Comes Home takes place sometime after the events of The Conjuring but years prior to James Wan’s sequel. Though the prologue might lead you to believe otherwise, the film does not revolve around Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) but rather their daughter Judy (played by Mckenna Grace) as she is babysat in the Warren home, which also houses an occult museum that no one should enter into or tamper with. Everything goes as planned for Mary Ellen (played by Madison Iseman) — the babysitter that the Warrens hired — until her best friend Daniela Rios (played by Katie Sarife) drops by to mess with the occult artifacts in an effort to connect with a lost loved one. When Daniela unlocks too many doors in the Warren home, all hell breaks loose as the Annabelle doll energizes and activates the possessed items around her.
Annabelle Comes Home is unlike both of the two previous Annabelle-films. This isn’t a cheap shot at the quality of the previous films, of which I actually really enjoyed the second. Rather, I say this to emphasize the fact that this spin-off trilogy has been weirdly designed and fairly bumpy along the way. Annabelle Creation felt almost alien when compared to the first of its kind, and Comes Home — were it not for one character’s sudden appearance in the film — almost somehow stands on its own. In many ways, though, this is exactly the spin-off of James Wan’s The Conjuring that I’ve always wanted. They’ve teased us with the occult museum ever since that connected universe-spawning first film, and this is the first time they’re dedicating an entire movie to it.
Annabelle Comes Home is a fun haunted museum film. I wish I could say I was the first one to compare this film to Night at the Museum or Goosebumps, but what I can say is that I agree with both of those comparisons and that its concept, or gimmick, is what made the film so entertaining for me. Like in The Conjuring 2, Annabelle Comes Home introduces us to many previously undeveloped or unseen ghosts, ghouls, and haunted objects that could easily lead a spin-off film of their own if the series’ success was anywhere close to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Conjuring gave us the Annabelle-films. The Conjuring 2 gave us The Nun and should’ve given us a ‘crooked man’ spin-off. Annabelle Comes Home presents us with plenty of apparitions that deserve their own spin-offs like ‘the ferryman’ or ‘the hellhound’, the former of which was probably the one ghost that worked the best, for me. Time will tell if New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures give another chance to those beings in a new spin-off.
One of the reasons why I really enjoyed Annabelle Creation was for the fact that it really showcased the talents of the Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg, who has since gone on to do bigger and more expensive things with Warner Bros. Annabelle Comes Home never made me worried for the future of the connected universe without Sandberg or Wan like The Curse of La Llorona did, but Dauberman doesn’t bring you any new distinctive visual trademark. Though the film presents you with some interesting new ways to give you goosebumps, this is another run-of-the-mill Conjuring Cinematic Universe film complete with annoying jump scares and trademark misdirecting jump scare build-ups that lead to nothing but unreleased tension. You’ve experienced this type of horror movie before, but the thrills that the ghostly line-up elicits are well-worth the price of admission.
However, I do think that this film is more fun than frightening. Whereas I think Corin Hardy failed to blend the contrasting horror and comedy of The Nun satisfyingly, Gary Dauberman makes the combination work in Annabelle Comes Home. There is a cute reference to an iconic scene from a Cameron Crowe romantic-comedy, at times it feels more like a John Hughes-inspired comedy, and the film as a whole definitely tends to lean into the children’s horror genre even though its imagery is far too frightening for a Goosebumps-audience.
There is a lot of enjoyable teen comedy in this film and the young cast really makes it all work quite well. Madison Iseman’s flirtation with Michael Cimino’s Bob Palmeri is fun and endearing, and Katie Sarife brings a lot of vulnerability to her surprisingly not-so-simple character.
However, Annabelle Comes Home is not made for the uninitiated. The film relies on your attachment to, and devoted interest in, the deep lore of the occult museum and love for the Warren family, even though the actors playing the Warren-parents aren’t seen often. Also, I must say that the prologue is lengthy, awkward, and entirely unnecessary. I felt that the film moved slowly, and it may be slightly formulaic. Furthermore, the slow build-up to the jump-scares can become tiring eventually.
Annabelle Comes Home certainly tests your patience. But I must say that I had a lot of fun with the gimmicky, funhouse concept of the simple but playful and promising Annabelle Comes Home, which doesn’t reinvent the wheel or make old bread taste fresh but finally makes good on a promise these films made all the way back in 2013.
7 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.