With the Marvel Cinematic Universe having reached its ‘final’ chapter with Avengers: Endgame, it does well to take stock and realise what a cultural zeitgeist those films have been. The idea of a shared cinematic is arguably nothing new – hello, 1944’s House of Frankenstein – but Marvel’s success spurred every person and his dog on to try and open up their own incestuous franchise. When James Wan unleashed the impressively spooky The Conjuring onto unsuspecting audiences back in 2013, you’d be hard pushed to find someone to have correctly predicted it would spawn an interlocking series of films, moreover that it would outlast Universal’s Dark Universe or be tonally more coherent than DC’s… And yet here we are with Annabelle Comes Home, the eighth instalment of The Conjuring Universe following The Curse of the Weeping Woman (La Llorona) released earlier this year.
Having written other entries in The Conjuring series including the previous two Annabelle films, screenwriter Gary Dauberman marks his directorial debut with a film that can be best described as being a midquel to a prequel to a spin-off. Make sense?
The Annabelle movies, whilst popular, have always felt like the later sequels in the Hellraiser franchise, where unrelated spec-scripts have been reshaped to leave a gap for Pinhead to walk through. (See: Hellraiser: Deader, Inferno and Hellseeker) Annabelle: Creation, for instance, is a strong but generic haunted house movie that just happens to have the titular doll in it. Annabelle Comes Home at least manages to break this chain by changing course towards the human centre – the Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, if you will – of The Conjuring Universe: Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).
Having taken ownership of the titular doll from the nurses previously seen at the start of The Conjuring, a bunch of supernatural hijinks encourage the pair to lock Annabelle away from the outside world in their basement, which is already filled with all the spookiest bric-a-brac known to mankind. A year later and the Warrens go on a mission, effectively saying goodbye to the film and leaving their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the charge of super babysitter Mary (Madison Iseman). When Mary’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) drops in for a visit and a snoop around the Warren household, she accidently lets Annabelle out of her prison and unleashes literal Hell.
And that’s about all the plot you’re going to get out of Annabelle Comes Home, which makes no attempt to build upon anything set up in the last two films. Instead, it swaps narrative and character for glacial paced, repetitive ‘scares’. It’s almost impressive how many times the film leans on the trope of a door being ferociously banged upon. As well as being boring, Annabelle Comes Home is a cynical attempt to cash in on any goodwill the franchise has made over the last few years.
Using the contrivance that Annabelle is a conduit for the evillest of all spirits, Dauberman throws literally everything at the screen in the hopes that something sticks. From CGI werewolves, haunted brides, possessed boardgames and grim reapers wearing coins on their eyes like they’re Donald Pleasence in Wake in Fright, Annabelle Comes Home ends up being a showreel of potential sequels and spinoffs baying for your attention and hard-earned cash. All that’s missing in this market research of a movie is a touchscreen, ala Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, for the audience to press when they really like a creepy baddy. Press 1 for television that predicts a horrific future. Press 2 for vulgar-looking monkey toy that bangs cymbal. These are, by the way, real critters to be found in the film.
Not that any of this criticism matters. The very concept of a new Annabelle film will bring people in their droves to the cinema and there’s a chance that Annabelle 4 is already looming over the horizon. And please note: There’s nothing wrong with liking Annabelle and wanting more of the macabre wooden top. However, when all is said and done, her fans deserve better than this lacklustre time waster.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★☆☆☆☆
‘Annabelle Comes Home’ opens in US cinemas on June 26 and Australian cinemas on June 27.