By: Hawk Ripjaw (Three Beers) –
At the beginning of Annabelle Comes Home, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are asked, “Can’t we just destroy the doll?” And they say “No, because that would make things worse.” O-KAY then.
Translation: these bitches print money. Every movie in the Conjuring universe has been made for $25 million or far less, and has made way, way more.
So it’s the 60s, the Warrens are absolutely popping off as paranormal investigators, and they’ve just recovered the Annabelle doll and placed it in their room of cursed items. They take a lot of precautions: the case with the doll is locked and given a sign that says “POSITIVELY Do Not Open,” the room is blessed once a week, and the door to the room has five different locks. This becomes irrelevant later when we see that Ed just leaves all of the fucking keys to everything just sitting on his desk, but I digress.
The Warrens have an adorable daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), who sees dead people. They leave town for a conveniently-timed-for-the-sake-of-the-plot trip, calling in Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), a babysitter with the most 60s-ass name I’ve ever heard, to watch Judy. Mary Ellen’s bestie Daniela (Katie Sarife) shows up unannounced and almost immediately does a stupid and lets the Annabelle doll out of the case. What ensues is essentially a darker and more serious episode of Scooby-Doo.
The single-setting setup of Annabelle Comes Home is simple, satisfying, and effective. The three girls are stuck in the house, the house is attacking them, and that’s it. Who doesn’t love a haunted house flick?
Like the Conjuring movies, this one is very clever and at times playful with its tension and scares. Jump scares are very obviously telegraphed, but then never materialize. One of the best is early in the film, when Lorraine Warren opens a comically large map in the car, very obviously covering the window with it. We’re certain something spooky will be on the other side of the window, the music rises, and then she lowers the map and nothing is there. Elsewhere, they’re delayed for a few moments, just missing the obvious rhythm, then hit right when you’ve let your guard down.
Speaking of playful: Annabelle Comes Home is—wait for it—fun! It’s a fun movie! That’s weird, right? Once Annabelle is out of her case, the movie turns into a haunted house romp packed with creative spooky ghouls. Possessed Cymbal Monkey doll! Possessed TV that predicts the future! POSSESSED SAMURAI ARMOR! Obviously, these are all setups for potential future spooky spinoffs, but that’s okay because I will take a mother fucking Possessed Samurai Armor movie because I am a dirty, dirty consumer.
The best new monster addition is the Ferryman, which leapfrogs off of the common mythological belief that one must place coins over the eyes of the deceased as a payment to the Ferryman to guide that person’s soul to the underworld. And you know a franchise that likes its spooky ghosts is going to take to a character like The Ferryman like a housewife will take to a book of Costco coupons.
During the sequence featuring the Ferryman, the lights in the house go out, and Mary takes her flashlight and starts wandering around. Ghosts drift in and out of the background, and every few seconds a pair of glowing coins are floating in the air. Mary turns her flashlight on them, and the fall to the ground and roll towards her. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the flashlight starts to flicker and die (nobody in these movies knows the ol’ “rotate the batteries in the flashlight for some extra juice” trick), giving the apparently-light-averse Ferryman the change to get up in that face for a spooky jump scare.
Also admirable is the Daniela’s motive to break into the Artifact Room and unleash Annabelle. She’s not merely a stupid character that behaves only like people would in Movie Land. Her father was killed in a car accident while she was driving. Daniela wants to believe in the afterlife, and wants to opportunity to speak to her father one more time and apologize to him. It’s a surprisingly heartfelt turn, and a reminder that one of the driving forces of the Conjuring franchise is goodness cutting through the often-overwhelming evil. It would have been even better had Daniela done something more sensible, then, say, bypass 5 locks and ignore the multitude of warning signs (including the one that literally said “POSITIVELY DO NOT OPEN”), but maybe I’m asking too much from a movie with possessed samurai armor.
The Conjuring universe, particularly in Annabelle Comes Home, is starting to get a little too comfortable in going back to the same well for some of its scares. There’s plenty of the classic “Look over there, then back here, then back over—BOOM” jolts, one of two of the “girl getting suddenly yanked down in her bed” from the first Conjuring, and a couple of the ones where the camera pans a bit and something spooky is suddenly there. The former are forgivable, but the ones where the blast of noise just comes out of nowhere are much less so. It’s cheap and unearned, which is especially odd considering how clever the good scares are in the movie.
It’s also not necessarily a frightening film, and the fact that it’s not entirely clear whether that is the intention occasionally muddles the tone. Sure, the scene with the Ferryman is delightfully tense and creepy, but it’s not like any of this will haunt my dreams or even really give me a sense of fear past the moment the lights in the theater come back up. It’s also weird that this is rated R, given that it’s really not all as serious, grim, and frightening as the rest of the franchise and not even all that violent.
The “bottle episode” feel of Annabelle Comes Home unfortunately drains it of most of its stakes. My personal favorite of the entire franchise is The Conjuring 2, which was large in scope and featured a desperately thrilling finale. It put the life of one of its main characters in immediate peril as Ed Warren dangled over a spooky tree supernaturally rendered very sharp, as the soul of a very adorable child was in contention with a very evil nun destined for a very shitty spinoff. There was a lot at stake there.
There’s not much of that to be found in Annabelle Comes Home, and even the late-game possession of one of the characters feels weirdly flat. The possession happens very quickly and comes out of nowhere without much foreshadowing. So instead of fearing for this character’s soul, we’re wondering what’s going on with that spooky possessed Samurai Armor, man.
My deep indifference going in to Annabelle Comes Home quickly gave way to genuine enjoyment, as its funhouse scares and crisp direction make it a pretty fun ride. In terms of movies in the Conjuring universe, it sits around the middle of the pack in terms of overall quality. It’s not as good as either of the Conjuring movies or Annabelle: Creation, but is significantly better than the dismal Annabelle, The Nun, and The Curse of My Sharona (even though Linda Cardellini as a single mom is low-key one of the most attractive things I’ve seen in a film in years). It’s disposable, kind of forgettable, but it’s a good time while you’re watching it. Get some friends together and check it out.
Annabelle Comes Home (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every new demon that’ll probably be spun off.
Do a Shot: for every scare recycled from a previous Conjuring Universe movie.
Do a Shot: whenever someone says “Annabelle.”
Take a Drink: for every jumpscare fake-out.