Annabelle Comes Home (USA / 15A / 106 mins)
In short: Best of the bunch
Directed by Gary Dauberman. Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Serife.
The Plot: Having terrorised another family, accursed doll Annabelle is taken into custody by paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). Believing her to be a conduit for unleashing other spirits and dark creatures, they lock her in a secure glass case. While away from home, their daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) is babysitted by Mary (Madison Iseman) and her friend Daniela (Katie Serife). Daniela is mourning the loss of her father. Curious about contacting him, Daniela finds her way into the secure room and unwittingly lets Annabelle out. Then the games begin…
The Verdict: One can almost imagine the scene at Warner Brothers Headquarters in Burbank. Producer James Wan, the man who started this Conjuring Universe, sitting around a table with new contributor and writer/director Gary Dauberman bashing out ideas for a third Annabelle film. Then they hit upon the idea of bringing Annabelle’s story full circle and returning her to where we first found her in The Conjuring – locked in a glass case and with a then-untold backstory. The result is Annabelle Comes Home. Frankly, it’s surprising that Wan has managed to squeeze three separate films out of a creepy but inanimate doll that has a habit of causing trouble wherever she goes. The first two films weren’t exactly horror classics. While Annabelle looks rather old-fashioned now compared to the visceral chills and thrills of the recent Child’s Play remake, there’s still life in the old girl yet.
This time around, the idea is brought more to the fore that Annabelle is a beacon, a malevolent force for gathering evil spirits together and unleashing them on unsuspecting teenagers. While Ed and Lorraine do make an appearance, their roles are just bookends here. They’re being kept in a box for The Conjuring 3 next year. Though, you could call this The Conjuring 2.5. Instead, the main section of the film is essentially a domestic peek-a-boo as Annabelle is let out and awakens a whole rogue’s gallery of new and frightening spirits and creatures from the supposedly locked chamber of horrors. Not that it seems that way. Dauberman is keen to emphasise that the room is mostly peaceful, a repository for cursed or possessed items as well as items used in ritualistic practices.
Whereas previously it was only glimpsed, here the audience gets to spend a good amount of time in the room with the characters. Some thought has gone into exactly what these objects are and what their threat potential is. One of the most effective is a small TV that shows a few seconds ahead in the future, to amp up the sense of foreboding. Throw in the catalyst of Annabelle and all hell breaks loose. Dauberman makes clever use of his claustrophobic setting, keeping the terrors inside and just outside the house. The new items have the potential to develop into spin-offs of their own, but Annabelle is still the queen of chaos and she’s given an appropriately rousing send-off.
Without Wilson and Farmiga, this film could have been just a bunch of scared teenagers running around a house. Their welcome presence brings gravitas and meaning, raising the game for the younger actors who respond in kind to hold their own against an onslaught of evil. Even when their characters aren’t bright enough to realise that tampering with evil is not going to make for a happy birthday party. While not exactly asked for, threequel Annabelle Comes Home is surprisingly the best of a mixed bunch of films. It’s suspenseful and like all good horrors, it hints at dark terrors in the shadows rather than showing them in full light. Though, Wan and his team would be advised to quit while they’re ahead with Annabelle. The thought of bringing her into the 21st Century would be flogging a dead doll.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor