Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Gary Dauberman
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Michael Cimino, Steve Coulter.
The seventh film in the Conjuring universe created by filmmaker James Wan and his frequent collaborator Leigh Whannell, Annabelle Comes Home is one of the weaker entries in the franchise that also includes spin-off films like The Nun and The Curse Of The Weeping Woman. This is the third film centring around the possessed doll that we first met in 2013’s The Conjuring. There have been two sequels including 2014’s Annabelle, both written by Gary Dauberman (It, etc), who makes his feature film directorial debut here. The Conjuring universe centres around the various real-life supernatural investigations conducted by Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), and there are plenty of other stories to explore, meaning that this series may be around for quite some time yet.
This film opens in 1971 and takes up the story immediately after the events depicted in 2014’s Annabelle. Ed and Lorraine Warren, the famous investigators of paranormal phenomena and the central characters of the Conjuring universe, have taken possession of the supernatural doll, which is “a beacon of spirits”, and have placed it in a secure cabinet in their basement trophy room of artefacts from their various cases. The glass case has been blessed by a priest as well to try and contain the evil spirits.
Cut to a year later. On the eve of a birthday party for their clairvoyant 10-year old daughter Judy (played by Mckenna Grace, replacing Sterling Jerins), the Warrens have to go out of town for an investigation. They leave Judy in the care of teenage babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). But an uninvited guest turns up in Daniela (Katie Sarife).
The curious Daniela however has her own reasons for coming to the Warren’s house. She wants to try and communicate with the spirit of her recently deceased father. She breaks into the basement and, ignoring all the warning signs, begins to touch some of the artefacts. She also inadvertently leaves the glass door of the Annabelle cabinet open, allowing the doll to get free. Once loose Annabelle begins to release other spirits, including a homicidal bride, a werewolf and other terrifying objects. Judy and Mary Ellen spend much of the night trying to recapture Annabelle and avoid the malevolent spirits.
Dauberman’s film is notably bloodless, and instead it relies on old fashioned horror tropes and a mounting sense of dread rather than gore. This gives it the look and feel of some of the teen horror films popular in the 70s and 80s. Dauberman has taken several liberties with the Warren’s real-life museum to create several terrifying new creations. Indeed, the real Annabelle doll is a ragged doll rather than the porcelain figure depicted in these films.
However, the CGI special effects are largely underwhelming and Dauberman’s handling of the material is a little languid and he lacks Wan’s innate understanding of horror tropes. There is lots of running around in darkened rooms, ghostly sights and apparitions and knocking on walls and doors, and tops of tepid attempts at jump scares, but very little of it is actually scary.
Cinematographer Michael Burgess (Wan’s regular collaborator who has shot The Curse Of The Weeping Woman, etc) uses moody, dark lighting to create an uneasy and often claustrophobic atmosphere. There is some great production design from Jennifer Spence, another regular collaborator, to create the interior of the Warren’s home.
Performances, especially from the little known youngsters in the key roles, are par for the course for this kind of material. Farmiga and Wilson do what they can with their limited screen time; the Warrens are away for much of the film and their absence is keenly felt. Grace (Amityville: The Awakening, and lots of tv work) does well with her performance which requires her to react to lots of green screen creations and CGI spirits. Michael Cimino brings some much needed comic relief to the material as Bob, Mary Ellen’s boyfriend.
Annabelle Comes Home is fittingly dedicated to the memory of the late Lorraine Warren, who died earlier this year.
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