WHO would have thought that “The Conjuring” in 2013 would spawn a series of movies connected with it that is now known collectively as “The Conjuring Universe”. “The Conjuring 2” was shown in 2016 and Part 3 is scheduled to be shown next year. Aside from that, the evil doll Annabelle now has its own franchise.
The first “Annabelle” was shown in 2014, followed by “Annabelle: Creation” in 2017 and now, “Annabelle Comes Home”. Then there’s the other spin-off flick, “The Nun”, which was such a big hit last year that a sequel is now in the works. Another film that is part of “The Conjuring Universe” is “The Curse of La Llorona”, a hit shown this year, to be followed by “The Crooked Man” next year. They’ve surely found a gold mine as there’s a big market of viewers who just love being scared.
Just right after Chucky in “Child’s Play” (which flopped), we now have “Annabelle Comes Home”. It starts with a prologue that explains how paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) got Annabelle. They took Annabelle from the two nurses who the evil doll had terrorized. As they drive home, they put the doll on the back seat (it’s definitely satanic looking they should have put it in the baggage compartment) and their car breaks down in a distant road in front of a foggy graveyard where there was a car accident. Lorraine sees a little girl killed in the accident with Annabelle, while Ed is thrown into the path of an oncoming truck. This scene is based on a story related to the couple by the priest who blesses their room full of horror artifacts every week.
Meantime, their 10-year old daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace), begins to experience scary visions that haunt her, concerning a dead priest that appears in their Catholic school where her classmates mock her. Judy keeps this to herself. It’s her birthday and her babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Isemann), a high school senior, wants her to have a happy celebration. She goes to buy a cake mix and flirts with the son of the store owner, Bob (Michael Cimino, not the director of “The Deerhunter”). Bob, whose nickname 'Bob’s got balls' is a fairly amusing running joke, shows up later for comic relief to serenade Mary Ellen, and gets terrorized, too.
When her parents leave their New England home for an overnight trip, Judy is left with Mary Ellen and her nosey BFF Daniela (Katie Sarife). Daniela feels guilty about a car accident that killed her own dad and she’s the character typical in horror flicks that does the most stupid things. The evil doll is kept inside the Warren’s room of cursed and haunted artifacts, the most malevolent object in it that serves as “a beacon for other spirits’.
While Judy and Mary Ellen are away, Daniela is told to keep watch on the cake they’re baking. She has been told not to touch anything inside the artifact room but, of course, she’s so dumb and still goes around snooping.
She gets the keys to the artifact room and starts going around haunted things like the samurai armor, the typewriter, the music box, a wind-up accordion monkey and she asks for a sign to connect with her dead dad. She opens the cabinet where there’s a warning: “Positively Do Not Open”.
Then the alarm of the oven where the birthday cake is being baked sounds off and she hurriedly leaves the room, also leaving the cabinet unlocked. This frees the creepy doll who then starts showing up all over the place to turn it into a haunted house to frighten Judy and also to set off a murderous bride in a haunted wedding dress, a werewolf, and corpses created by the folkloric nightmare called the Ferryman (“You pay his toll/he’ll take your soul”). Obviously, these spooky things are being introduced to us as some sort of a workshop for possible ideas in more future spin off movies in the now over extended “Conjuring” universe, just like “The Nun” and “La Llorona”.
The movie is the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who previously wrote the first two “Annabelle” flicks and also co-writes this one along with James Wan, who started “The Conjuring” series. While the past films with the Warrens featured actual real life cases, this one is obviously just totally conjured by the imaginations of Wan and Dauberman. They offer plenty of jump scares with Judy and Daniela both involving watching spooky TV. Then there’s the haunted Milton Bradley Feeley Meeley board game. A sinister atmosphere is established, what with even the interior of the house looking foggy. The smoke machine must be working overtime.
Ed and Lorraine then come back to remedy the situation, with Lorraine feeling Daniela's pain and tension through a Victorian mourning bracelet from her collection. But the story is really nonsensical and just relies on the usual horror tropes, with some characters doing the most moronic thing imaginable, like sticking one’s hand into a dark hole. So what do you expect to happen? Although Annabelle is the title roler, its exposure on screen is actually minimal. What makes it scary at times is all the anticipation as you never know what will be unleashed next.
This film is a paint by numbers genre movie, obviously just made for maximum cash grab capitalizing mainly on the doll’s “charms”, so she should haunt its makers for giving her lesser exposure than the stupid characters. A horror movie would only be effective if the scares come in service of a good and involving storyline, with compelling characters who the viewers can totally sympathize with it. This one is very commercial, hastily assembled to earn a fast buck from gullible viewers.
In fairness to child actress McKenna Grace, her acting shows a knack for dread that goes beyond her years. We’ve seen her in Netflix’ “Haunting of Hill House” as the young Theo and she now plays Judy with an intelligence that makes her a perfect scream queen in training. She looks like she’s genuinely affected by the haunting she has experienced. But we're not.