Released: 26th June
Seen: 3rd July
The Conjuring universe never seems to know when to stop trying to grow. With seven movies out since 2013, the low budget horror series has become a staple of horror cinema and really resurrected the haunted house genre. It’s been stumbling a bit lately though, with last years The Nun making a lot of money but getting savaged critically (I was mostly OK with the film, but I was also really early into my critical phase) and thisyears The Curse Of La Llorona which not only did badly with critics but it’s the lowest earning film in the franchise. Sure, it still made over $100million on a budget of $9million but that movie is a sign that maybe this style of horror might not be working as well… it’s certainly getting to the point where we’re beginning to see the cracks in this franchise thanks to the repetition, which leads us nicely to Annabelle Comes Home.
Annabelle Comes Home takes place shortly after the original Annabelle (though you won’t need to watch that godawful movie in order to understand this one). The doll has been taken to the Warren’s home and placed in a sacred glass case and blessed by a priest, the evil itself is contained. This is pretty fortunate since the Warrens have a daughter, Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace) so having an evil doll around the house where their child is might not be the best plan. For reasons of “We didn’t want to pay Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson their rates for the entire shoot”, Ed and Lorraine Warren have to go out of town so they get their usual babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to stay and look after Judy. Judy’s best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) turns up, seemingly to keep her friend company but she’s also curious about all the creepy stuff in the Warren’s basement. Naturally, because someone needs to be stupid in order to get things rolling, Daniele is stupid and sneaks into the room where all the evil things are kept and starts touching everything that she possibly can which is enough to make all the evil things wake up and have a party filled with murder and cake, but mostly murder. Soon it’s havoc as the three young girls are trapped in a house with Annabelle, the Ferryman, Beelzebub, a stabby bride, a ghost werewolf, the Professor and Maryanne… it gets messy, but I’m sure they’ll be fine.
Annabelle was not a good movie, Annabelle Creation actually gains some serious focus and figures out how to make this doll scary. Annabelle Comes Home seems to be operating on the idea of just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. This almost feels like a transparent attempt to see what ghosts catch on with people and try to make movies about them later. I’m just saying that so when they announce The Ferryman and The Bride are getting their own origin movies, I will have called it. However, this cavalcade of colossal creeps means that there really is no chance to focus on the dangers of each one. That comically long list of things they’re trapped with that I ended the last paragraph with? Do you know what I missed? A monkey that plays the cymbals, an evil TV, a terrifying typewriter, a suit of samurai armour and a possessed board game… and that’s just the ones I remember. It’s impossible to be scared by most of these things because you just end up going “Oh, another one?”. Having a lot of creatures can be fun, the ending of Cabin in the Woods will confirm that, but this film didn’t need that and doesn’t use them properly. They pop up, usually from a dark part of the house to scream directly into the camera at random moments and try and implant the images of themselves into your head so when the time comes to make spin-offs, they’re ready.
There are some moments of genuine tension, they have learned how to hold a shot long enough that you start looking around to see what’s going on. There are enough good scares and good ideas that it does kind of work. I had several moments where I was sure I knew where a scare was coming from and then they surprised me, which is great… but then they would change what the main monster was, I’d get lost, we’d be in a different movie with different visual effects and then another jumpscare. Tons of jumpscares, all over the place. Some of them are well set up, I enjoyed a few of them and none of them was boring, but they were just kind of there. Everything was just kind of there, even the main characters who all fall into the same archetypes I’ve seen in a hundred other horror movies. They were fine, charming even and I enjoyed some of their interactions. I thought the adorable romance between Mary Anne and Bob “Balls” Palmeri (Michael Cimino) was precious… and then they kept insisting that every character say “Bob’s got balls”, presumably because the writers thought it would be funny to have every character say ‘balls’ at some point and no one stopped them. This kind of problem just keeps happening, they’ll have a good idea and start to go somewhere with it before tripping on their balls and landing face first in the mud.
Annabelle Comes Home is a mish-mash of ideas that have been strung together to form a mostly cohesive film, albeit one that can’t decide what the hell it’s doing at times. The scares are fine, but there are enough stupid moments to make you wonder how everyone doesn’t break their necks while tying their shoelaces. Jump scares can only carry you so far and maybe overexposure has ruined this series’ ability to really scare because I’ll tell you right now, no one in my audience was screaming or jumping at any point in this movie. I’ve had worse times and I don’t actively dislike this film, but I’m not going to be thinking about it for that much longer… at least, not until whatever weird sequel comes out next.