Unless you’ve been living under a rock or just don’t like horror movies, then you probably already know the name “Annabelle” and more or less what that name represents. If you only have a tangential knowledge of the “Conjuring-verse,” than you might see these spin-offs as blatant money grab. In fact, each of the Annabelle movies have added something new to the mythos and Annabelle Comes Home is no exception.
David Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation was always going to be a hard act to follow, but screenwriter Gary Dauberman steps up to the director’s plate with the benefit of having Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson’s Lorraine and Ed Warren back in the mix. The Warrens are merely there for a framing sequence but not so much during the main body of the story, so it’s a little bit of a tease, but the movie does open with them retrieving the Annabelle doll from a group of nurses, putting the doll in a glass case as the basis for what will become their supernatural artifact room.
Many years later, the Warrens have a ten-year-old daughter Judy (McKenna Grace from Captain Marvel) who is constantly behind with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) while her parents are off on a supernatural case. On one such occasion, Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes over with the sole intention of poking around the Warren creepy house. One thing leads to another and Daniela leaves Annabelle’s case open.
That last paragraph is the basic set-up for the movie which will focus on Judy and three teenagers alone in the Warren house as Annabelle begins attracting all sorts of evil supernatural forces. In the opening sequence, we learn that Annabelle is not a possessed doll persé as some might assume as much as she is a magnet for similarly malevolent spirits. We will meet many of them over the course of this night. There’s spirits like the Ferryman, clearly inspired by the Greek mythology of Charon and the fare he charges to get across the river Styx, as well as a ghostly werewolf and a few others, all distinct from previous spirits in the series.
That’s a pretty strong basis for a horror movie, and Annabelle Comes Home isn’t bad, although it hardly feels original when most of the movie involves teenagers being threatened by ghosts, something we’ve seen so many times before.
McKenna Grace is probably the strongest of the young cast once Farmiga and Wilson are off doing whatever the Warrens happen to be up to while the craziness Annabelle has wrought upon their home is taking place, though none of them are able to sell the scares as previous actors we’ve seen in these movies.
The problem is that those who loved the Conjuring movies for Farmiga and Wilson are likely to be disappointed by how little they’re involved in the story and the latest group of teenagers aren’t enough to fill that void.
What constantly amazes me about these movies — and Dauberman ably picks up that ball and runs with it — is how the franchise still finds new ways to scare and freak you out. Maybe this movie isn’t nearly as scary or creepy as Creation, but there are still some cool ghost FX that don’t seem like direct rip-offs of things we’ve already seen before. Considering that this is really the sixth movie in the franchise, that’s pretty impressive.
Unfortunately, there also doesn’t seem to be very high stakes in this one, because you never really feel as if any of the four kids are in any real danger, which wasn’t the case with Creation. In that movie — whose director would go onto direct the excellent Shazam! movie — the kids were tortured so ferociously you never thought any of them were ever really safe.
Despite being a perfectly fine addition to the series, Annabelle Comes Home is just not as inventive or creepy or even scary as some of the other Conjuring films. Still, if you’re a fan of these movies, there’s enough new ideas to keep you invested in this outshoot of the Warrens’ world and get you excited for next year’s inevitable The Conjuring 3.
RELATED: Interview with Writer/Director Gary Dauberman