I’m not a fan of the ‘Conjuring’ universe. I loved ‘Conjuring’ but I never really got into the cinematic world of The Warrens. I felt that the other films in the universe that I did see didn’t quite capture the magic of the first film. But ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ is a relentless frightfest with great setups for frightening situations that will have you holding your breath or looking away.
In this installment in the franchise, the focus is on Annabelle, the doll that is also a conduit for other spirits, and also with Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace), the daughter of spiritualist and occultists Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Fermiga and Patrick Wilson, respectively). As the Warrens leave for another trip, Judy is left with her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). But as a news article detailing one of the Warrens’ exorcisms reaches their community, Mary Ellen’s best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) makes a visit as she seems very curious about the supernatural.
The film begins with reminding us how dangerous Annabelle is and how the Warrens keep all the items they’ve come across from all their spiritual work in a locked room in the basement. We see the effects of Judy’s unusual upbringing in school giving us a human center to the film. Mary Ellen provides the trusting confidante for Judy — and a love story angle with Bob (Michael Cimino), who happens to be Judy’s neighbour — while Daniela provides the inciting incident.
Because in her curiosity, Daniela actively searches for the key into the locked door and unwittingly frees Annabelle from her restraints. And as a conduit for other spirits, the evening becomes a night of pure terror for the three young women in a house full of evil ghosts and demons.
Like in a lot of horror films, there is that feeling of frustration when a character, Daniela in this case, is doing something she has been told not to do. But surprisingly, the film withholds the rationale of her actions until halfway through that surprisingly adds a second powerful human element that grounds the film further. It adds texture to the characters and makes the dramatic situation one that can’t be helped rather than a mistake completely of their own doing.
Director Gary Dauberman is quite aware of the sophistication of audiences now so his camera work actually engages with the viewers, creating setups that sometimes build tension that lead to a fake out and then other scenes are a slow build that marshals the suspense and lets it explode in a wonderfully satisfying way. The audience in the cinema I was in were screaming and cursing under their breaths. The sound design and mixing is excellently done and it should be experienced in an Atmos theater to maximize the full effect.
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And once the hauntings begin, it barely ever lets up. It’s a relentless assault that leaves you breathless except for one or two moments of much-needed humor.
What makes ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ so enjoyable is that it is a simple setup with a lot of truly terrifying moments that is meant to scare you but doesn’t feel cheap because it fits entirely within the narrative. It’s grounded by three actresses that are likable and there’s enough heart in it to make you care.
It’s the simplicity of ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ — from its story to its message — that makes it so enjoyable.