★★ out of ★★★★★
Now with 30 percent less jump scares!
Directed by Gary Dauberman
Haunted houses are great! You get the full horror show on display. Creepy babies, mad scientists, slasher-killers, wolf men and women, ghosts, goblins, demons, and ghouls. But, they’re also kind of silly too. When a haunted house throws the whole kitchen spook sink at you eventually you’ll hit the believably wall and it won’t matter how many jump scares or off-putting images you see, it’ll just be lost in stew of preposterous stupidity. Sometimes that happens in film. Sometimes that film is called Annabelle Comes Home.
The latest entry in the Conjuring-verse suffers from a number of foibles, but probably the one that’s the most problematic is its lack of focus. Annabelle picks up in 1971 when famed spooky hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) rescue Annabelle from a couple young nurses who’ve become curse by Annabelle and her evil ways. The Warrens explain that a) Annabelle is really a demonic conduit for other evil spirits, b) she can’t be killed because that will just cause more grief for everyone, and c) putting her in a glass case at their home should put her evil ways at bay. Case closed. Mystery solved.
One year later, Annabelle is still safely tucked away in their ghoul closet, but Warrens need to cut out of town for some weekend spook hunting. They put the care of their pre-pubescent teen, Judy (McKenna Grace) in the hands of super-cool babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). If there’s any truism or basic tenet to horror it’s that babysitters and demons go hand-in-hand like beer and pizza. Seems like such a great idea when it’s going down, but often leads to indigestion and a whole lot of regret.
Mary Ellen, while a cool-headed and resourceful young lady, decides to invite her best pal Daniela (Katie Sarife) along for the ride. Without adult supervision the trio of young ladies is left to explore the Warren’s demonic curios, witchy research, and tastefully done 1972 interior design. Daniela, of course, has an ulterior motive, and clumsily decides to contact the spirit plane, but not before she lets Annabelle of her now-famous glass box. The film, or for that matter, the Conjuring series, never fully explains how the glass enclosure keeps the evil from manifesting itself — save for the fact that Annabelle is blessed several time a day — but it would seem like you wouldn’t need a glass cage to keep the spiritual balance in place.
The moment Daniela sets Annabelle free the haunted house spook show begins. There’s a set of possessed samurai armor, a possessed wedding dress, a possessed little girl, a werefolf, a possessed board game, a demon creature, and the Ferryman! The whole haunted house comes to life and Daniela, Mary Ellen, and Judy are left to try and figure out how to put pandora, or ahem…Annabelle, back in her glass box.
Annabelle Comes Home is wrapped up in the tightest, tidiest, and least scary way that could have been written. There’s no doom, no ambivalence, and no hint at a sequel or connection back to the Conjuring-verse. To say they focused group this film for teens and pre-teens would clearly be something of an understatement. While there’s a handful of really solid jump scares in the film and pinch of creepy 1970s ambiance spread throughout, this film could have stood to roll out quite a few more jump scares. Unfortunately, much like its 2014 predecessor — that employed many successful 1960s devices and gimmickry – songs, ads, TV shows, and great set design do not a movie make. From a generational standpoint the 1970s might seem like a peculiar and off-putting world away, but it takes a bit more creativity to make throwaway curios inherently scary. Throwing a bunch of spooky images and a threadbare plot at the audience leaves everyone left feeling kind of silly.
Annabelle Comes Home is rated R and screening in theaters everywhere.