ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)
Directed by Gary Dauberman
Written by Gary Dauberman, James Wan (original story)
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Michael Cimino, Samara Lee, Kenzie Caplan, Sade Katarina, Sheila McKellan, Michael Patrick McGill, Brittany Hoza, Steve Coulter, Luca Luhan, Gary-7, Paul Dean, Alison White, Anthony Wemyss, Natalia Safran, Edwin Scheibner, Douglas Tait, Alexander Ward, Bill Kottkamp
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I’m catching up on some films I missed last year and caught ANNABELLE COMES HOME on HBO last night. Gary Dauberman has been the go-to guy in terms of mainstream horror writers these days, having penned THE NUN, both IT movies and now all three ANNABELLE spinoffs from THE CONJURING series. While THE CONJURING Universe has proven to be pretty good at casting out spinoffs and sequels, even though ANNABELLE CREATION is the only one of those worth a damn. This latest ANNABELLE film subtitled COMES HOME is Dauberman’s directorial debut and unfortunately, it shows he should have stayed behind the keyboard rather than the camera. I get it. He wrote a ton of films, so it was time to let him direct, but Dauberman just doesn’t seem ready if this latest ANNABELLE is any indication.
The story takes place immediately after the cursed doll Annabelle is introduced in the original THE CONJURING as Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) take the doll from a trio of teens who have been haunted by the doll. After a run in with a roadside ghost (that seems to somehow try to tie in with THE CURSE OF LA LLARONA), the Warrens lock Annabelle up in a now familiar glass cage. When a pair of teenage girls babysit Ed and Lorraine’s daughter Judy (THE HAUNTING OF HELL HOUSE’s Mckenna Grace), one of the teens breaks into the Warrens’ evil stuff room and unleashes Annabelle as well as a few other restless spirits. It seems Annabelle is a conduit that draws evil spirits. Once unleashed, they come a knocking on the Warrens’ abode and with them out for the night, it’s up to the teens and Judy to take on a plethora of evil spirits—all under the guidance of the evil doll.
While in previous entires of the entire CONJURING Universe, the films have focused on one specific specter and occasionally introducing another in hopes to make yet another spinoff, ANNABELLE COMES HOME is a veritable smorgasbord of evil spirits and monsters. It is as if the film knows that Annabelle herself has been wrung dry of the scary. So they just toss in repetitive sequences, loud noises, and another handful of creepies and cross their fingers that you don’t notice that the title character really isn’t in this film that much. ANNABELLE COMES HOME adopts a kitchen sink approach that reeks of desperation, lobbing one monster after the next at the viewer, hoping one of them can prove popular enough to get further installments into the film series. Unfortunately, none of these ghosts are interesting enough to carry an entire film (but I’m sure that won’t stop them from trying to do it). A woman in a bloody bridal gown, a werewolf, and a ferryman, along with a handsy board game, a TV that sees the future, and a bracelet that allows you to converse with the dead make up the collection of spooky things we are barraged with at a rampant pace.
Dauberman was responsible for plotting out some very scary sequences in the IT and ANNABELLE movies, but just doesn’t seem to be able to capture that magic with his lens. Some of the ghosts have slight ties with the leads as they scream and run around the Warrens’ modest home. But by the time shit starts going sideways, it’s just one ghost after another comin’ at cha towards the camera and dragging the kids away from the camera (see [REC] for when it was introduced and it’s remake QUARANTINE for the last time that was cool). This results in ghost overload and the patience to plot out suspense filled sequences that made these films so popular in the first place is all but gone.
Little McKenna Grace carries the bulk of the acting here and is the only acting standout, unfortunately, as the rest of the teens simply act out cliched characters doing things only kids in horror movies would do. The logic that the Warrens would hire a teenage babysitter to stay the night at their home watching Judy is pretty far fetched and all through the film I was asking myself, where the hell are any of the adults. But then again, this film isn’t really for my 40-something ass. It’s obviously aimed towards the tween market. The problem is, Wan and Co. have bridged that gap quite a few times, making it scary for all ages, not just towards a specific demographic.
Another blaring mistake was that the 70’s era, which gave off such a nice sense of nostalgia in previous THE CONJURING entries, just isn’t communicated well here. This would have maybe drawn in the older crowd a bit, but Dauberman couldn’t fit it in what with all of the ghosts floating about. Playing 70’s music in the background and clips of Captain Kangaroo and the Dating Game just don’t cut it.
Another aspect of THE CONJURING Universe is that so much is “understood” by Lorraine Warren and her daughter Judy. Lines like “The evil is contained.” is something I’d believe from Dr. Strange because he is a made-up character in a made-up supernatural world. Here Warren and her daughter are supposed to be based on real people. This “knowledge” they have of the supernatural and the great unknown just makes everything feel phony and hokey. If these are actual quotes (which I doubt), it does lend weight to the argument that the Warrens were just scam artists, performing for and exploiting those eager to believe.
Adopting a kitchen sink approach seems like the last gasp for this Annabelle series. I can’t see where they might go from here. I’m sure some exec is fiending to do another one, but Dauberman just wasn’t able to capture the scares like previous directors have done in the past with this universe. Gone are the inundation of jump scares and Don Music piano bangs, but they’ve been replaced by excess which doesn’t help anything but make the scares less intense. Even before the big climax of the film, I gave up and just wanted it all to end. A lack of patience and confidence in the scares one monster can provide is the key weakness here. This is perplexing because Dauberman wrote some very intense and involved scare scenes that took their time to pan out in previous entries. In the role director, that patience simply isn’t there. Looks like we have another spinoff and another THE CONJURING film coming up this year. Here’s hoping they learn from mistakes like ANNABELLE COMES HOME and remember why the first few films were so effectively scary. This one certainly missed the memo.