By Jordan Gerdes CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
Annabelle Comes Home takes place one year after the events in The Conjuring (2013). It opens with Ed and Lorraine Warren bringing home the Annabelle doll and locking it up in their artifact room, but not before realizing the terrible evil that surrounds the doll. Lorraine surmises the doll acts as a conduit for spirits, and a demon in particular. In standard horror movie fashion, Ed and Lorraine leave for the night on business, and leave their daughter Judy in the care of Mary Ellen, the family babysitter. One thing leads to another and Mary Ellen’s friend Daniella gets into the artifact room, and unleashes Annabelle in a misguided attempt to contact her dead father. Predictably, all hell literally breaks loose.
I went in to this like many of you probably did as well. I was a massive fan of The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 (2016). Annabelle (2014) was a bit of a misstep, not living up to the hype of the premise, but the pre-prequel, Annabelle: Creation (2017) was a massive improvement on its predecessor. Directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), the origin story shows the foundations of the doll and its demonic attachment, tying directly into the events of 2014’s Annabelle. Then the “Conjuring Universe” expanded further in The Nun (2018), a standalone film about the origins of Valek, the demonic nun from The Conjuring 2. Though I enjoyed the gothic tone and setting for the story, the film itself was a bit thin and wasn’t up to the caliber of what I had come to expect from The Conjuring series. Finally, this year also gave us The Curse Of La Llorona (2019), a Conjuring universe tie in about The Weeping Woman, though I have yet to see this one. On the horizon, we also have been told to expect a film about The Crooked Man, from Conjuring 2, and another The Nun spinoff film. Going into Annabelle Comes Home felt like the majority of the spin offs, a cash grab trying to squeeze what little they have left from the series in between Conjuring main entry films, the third slated to drop in 2020.
Annabelle Comes Home is written and directed by Gary Dauberman, who has written every Conjuring spin off film, as well as penned the script for It: Chapter One (2017), It: Chapter Two (2019) and the upcoming ‘Salem’s Lot film. Let’s just go ahead and say that the man knows how to write horror films. To add to these accolades, Annabelle Comes Home is the directorial debut of Dauberman, and I am so incredibly pleased to say it is a great one. This film hinges on the fact that Annabelle is a conduit for spirits, and gets loose, in a room that contains the most cursed and haunted objects in the world. The Warren’s artifact room is filled to the brim with insane trinkets, all with equally insane back stories. While James Wan could have gone through one by one and pulled these trinkets out for spin off films, Dauberman takes advantage of all he has at his disposal in terms of storytelling.
What happens over the 90-minute runtime of the film is essentially A Night At The Museum, but if it were a horror movie. Daniella, played by Katie Sarife, lets Annabelle out of the case, but not before touching nearly every item in the room. A stack of ancient coins are attributed to The Ferryman, the entity that ferries lost souls to the underworld. A wedding dress is attributed to The Bride, a malevolent spirit that possesses anyone wearing it to murder their fiancée. There is haunted armor of a samurai, which seems to have come out of a massacre. There is a haunted Milton Bradley came in which you blindly put your hands into a box to find an object. A book entitled “The Black Shuck” summons a hellhound, or more aptly, a werewolf. Haunted piano, future telling tv, a phone that melts your face off, the sky is the limit with this group of objects. While a number of them are in part inspired by Warren cases, like the Annabelle doll, many are embellished heavily.
There are some seriously atmospheric scares in this one. I spent a good portion of the film with my chin and mouth tucked inside my sweatshirt, ready for the next scare coming. But Dauberman has learned from his predecessors, and doesn’t rely on cheap scares to sell the atmosphere in this one. Often, the camera is held tightly on Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), with plenty of backgrounding to work with. These are typical scenes in horror where you see something moving in the frame, just out of focus, or sneaking up. Often, the character will turn away or obscure the frame a bit, and when they move back, something is there to scare us. More often than not in this one, Dauberman uses this technique to create false scares. You know that when Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) moves the road map off the window, something is going to be there, right in her face. She moves the map, and nothing is there. The tension is through the roof, and you have nowhere to release all of your anticipation. So when the voice from the backseat, out of frame, softly says “I like your doll”, instead of jumping, your body is flooded with fear. The hairs on your neck stand up, and goosebumps ripple your flesh. This is just a single example of how Dauberman uses false scares to not only create that atmosphere, but maintain throughout the film.
The sound design is incredible, particularly the directional audio used to enhance those scenes. The coins falling and rolling across hardwood, as the Ferryman is waiting in the other room. That sequence particularly, you only see a quick glimpse of the Ferryman himself, as Dauberman focuses on the victims instead, corpses with coins in their eyes, standing still. The floating, luminescent coins in the dark that drop as soon as the flashlight beam touches them was particularly spooky. Dauberman has a lot of characters in this film that could’ve hogged the screen time with, and he resisted every single one, including one particularly evil looking demon and a werewolf. A fucking werewolf is now part of the Conjuring Universe and it’s shown maybe for 10 seconds total. Dauberman knows exactly what he has in this film and knows exactly how to make you want more.
There are a number of really touching moments in this one too, centering on Daniella’s father and death in general, as well as Judy (McKenna Grace) dealing with being a pariah because her parents are paranormal investigators. The Warrens, regardless of what they were in real life, are truly a joy to watch on screen. Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren) and Vera Farmiga(Lorraine Warren) grace their scenes with a comfort and love that really stands out, especially in a film that doesn’t let up once it starts going. I found those scenes to be a much-needed breather. The acting specifically by McKenna Grace, Katie Sarife, and Madison Iseman is great. These three play off one another very well, with McKenna Grace stealing the show a lot of the time.
All in all, Annabelle Comes Home is an excellent entry in a franchise that I wasn’t sure had much left to offer. Gary Dauberman knocks it out of the park in his first directorial feature, and I really hope they tap him to work on whatever Conjuring Universe spinoffs may come down the road. His creativity within the franchise source material has shown on screen for years, and seeing a fully fleshed out vision by him on screen, I think he can do wonders for this series. For fans of the series, you will love this and it’s probably in the top 3 or 4 of the series. For those who have soured on the franchise in recent years, give this one a chance. It’s a ton of fun, and it’s really well done.