In 2014, if someone claimed Annabelle would spawn the ‘Conjurverse’s’ most successful spinoff sequels, I’d’ve gone blue in the face from laughter. Not even Nostradamus could prophesize the leap in quality from Annabelle to Annabelle: Creation, and now Annabelle to Annabelle Comes Home.
Frequent ‘Conjurverse’ screenwriter Gary Dauberman helms this third continuation in the Warrens’ fight against dolly-dearest damnation, which is an absolute monster mashin’ blast. It’s like walking through a high-concept Halloween Horror Nights maze at Universal, and I mean that in the best funhouse way. Dauberman’s screenplay answers that oft-pondered Cabin In The Woods question, as characters unwittingly choose their collective fate, of “What happens if *all* the monsters get loose?” Annabelle isn’t alone, and as depicted, there ain’t no party like an Annabelle party because an Annabelle party don’t stop (the screams).
At this point in the Warrens’ story, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) have just sealed Annabelle within excess church glass as a double-layer of divine protection. Into the artifact room she goes, right before the Warrens embark on another trip. Littlest Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace) stays home with long-trusted babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), who’re joined by the latter’s mischievous bestie Daniela (Katie Sarife). Lies are spun, motivations hidden, and the girls accidentally unleash every jailed entity once contained by holy water blessings. At the center of it all? A beacon for malicious spirits, Annabelle.
Warner Brothers’ ‘Conjurverse’ roster explores an exciting expansion of boogeymen and women in Annabelle Comes Home. How easy Dauberman could have re-enlisted “The Nun” as Annabelle’s ringmaster general, but variety is the spice of death and intrigue. As Daniela touches every cursed totem in the Warrens’ collection, she releases the likes of a hellhound werewolf (“The Black Shuck” case), a transformative wedding dress, and a coin-collecting “Ferryman” usher. Every vile addition is welcome, especially since there’s now a canon ‘Conjurverse’ werewolf. There’s never a conflict of interest either given how many malevolent beings trade focal attacks, passing the proverbial baton like they’re competing in the Scare Olympics.
Dauberman’s plotted connections around unleashed heretic mayhem are familiar. Don’t expect anything more than blueprint horror stereotypes to underline motivations. Katie Sarife foolishly tempts underworld forces, Madison Iseman is every horror movie babysitter, and – well, admittedly, McKenna Grace proves herself once again an immensely talented child actress (Amityville: The Awakening/The Haunting Of Hill House).
I retract my statement about archetypal character generics in Grace’s case. Her comprehension of death, or compartmentalization of clairvoyant powers, makes her quite the emboldened horror protagonist. Where Iseman’s shell-shocked nanny hesitates, Grace’s Warren child bolts into danger’s ectoplasmic path. It’s the one way Dauberman throws curveballs, when Judy Warren blusters past or interrupts the “easy” scare.
Annabelle Comes Home is atmospherically creepy in the way all ‘Conjurverse’ movies embrace darkness – Dauberman’s aesthetic also blanketed in mystery fog – but always better at maximizing ghostly attributes. The “Black Shuck” werewolf howls in full view, slashing through canvas automobile rooftops. Mr. Ferryman’s shiny token eyes glisten like headlights cutting through shadows. Bridezilla possessions favor kitchen-knife slasher poses.
Dauberman’s learned plenty from watching ‘Conjurverse’ directors like Wan and David F. Sandberg, elevating jolted haunts with rotating colored lights or background mirror appearances. Perception is key as figures lurk within background reflections, forcing viewers’ eyes to survey every inch of the screen for threats. Judy’s encounters with Annabelle’s horned demon, Ferryman’s materialization, “The Bride’s” heavy footsteps – prepare to curse Annabelle’s name on more than one occasion (as my gasping audience confirmed).
Ed and Lorraine Warren aren’t fixtures in Annabelle Comes Home, given how their departure permits the ill-begotten spectral warfare. Thankfully, we don’t miss Wilson or Farmigia. Despite the film’s “Aw, Hell No!” factor (characters making the inarguably wrong decisions), fear is palpable. Daniela finds herself trapped inside the Warrens’ artifact room, staring into a flickering haunted television that plays on a reverse delay (future feed). Mary Ellen’s crush Bob “Balls” Palmeri (Michael Cimino) comically hides in a chicken coop from a snarling hellhound. Haunted samurai armor, haunted clapping monkey toys, haunted “Feely Meely” Milton Bradley games – WB’s third Annabelle is a (condemned) treasure chest of horror goodies.
Gary Dauberman proves Annabelle a fluke, now redeemed by two vastly more accomplished possession sequels. Annabelle Comes Home is crowd-pleasing horror entertainment that’s both fun and eerily frightening. The simplicity of “creature feature” aggression plays against broader themes of afterlife acceptance and contained evil begetting freed goodness. Death as an inevitability, death as a passing, death as a pitstop.
You didn’t think the latest ‘Conjurverse” movie was *just* squealy sleepover spooks of popcorn-pleasurable designs, did you? Give that notion 95% relevance, with the other 5% going to a maturely reconciled performance by McKenna Grace.
Annabelle Comes Home punches your ticket for horror excitement as an amusement park funhouse would, delivering a rotating cast of evil spirits who're all welcome additions to the extensive 'Conjurverse' monster roster.