It’s a curious fact, but the Annabelle doll, first seen causing supernatural trouble for clueless meat-sacks since 2013’s The Conjuring, has probably had more appearances in James Wan’s sprawling cinematic unverse than it’s heroes, the spirit fighting husband and wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Essentially the mascot for the whole damn franchise, the pale, putrid plaything even managed to hit a hat trick of spinoffs before the main series even scored a trilogy of it’s own with the release of Annabelle Comes Home. But after two films of back story (the second, Annabelle Creation, was essentially a prequel to a prequel), this third movie finally shifts the franchise forward as a sort-of sequel to the first flick technically making it The Conjuring 2.5 that focuses more on the Warren’s daughter, Judy, than a random family with an awful taste in toy adoption. Annabelle may have come home, but she’s brought some friends with her…
After being brought home to the Warren’s room of supernatural artifacts, the demon that uses Annabelle as a conduit to possess the loving seems to have to be content having it’s dolly-shaped travel pass revoked when it’s stored behind it’s prison of a case made of sacred chapel glass. All’s well that seemingly end’s well and the only thing that’s negatively affecting the Warren’s is a newspaper article declaring them frauds which is giving their daughter, Judy, some hassles at school. However, when the Warren’s head out of town to investigate another case, they enlist impossibly blonde and impossibly sweet babysitter, Mary, to watch over their daughter with strict instructions to stay the hell away from their basement that acts like Guantanamo Bay for malevolent ghosts. The good news? Judy and Mary follow the rules to letter. The bad? Mary’s friend Daniela has invited herself along and has an ulterior motive in breaching the basement and immediately starts fiddling with every cursed item she can lay her hands on, with Annabelle being high on her list of things to stupidly disturb.
Not only does this stir the demon who uses the doll as it’s own private Uber ride, but the awakening of Annanelle also fires some of the other haunted items into life which introduces other such ghostly rogues who boast such professional wrestler-style names as The Ferryman, The Black Shuck and The Bride and all start pitching in to make the lives of the trio of girls pure hell.
Can they possibly hope to survive the night while being assaulted from all sides by coin-eyed wraiths, foggy wolf monsters and the black demon who inhabits Annabelle itself while trying to think up a satisfying excuse when the parents come back home?
A slightly perkier Annabelle installment than the rather dour solo efforts we’ve had up till now, what Annabelle Comes home lacks in solid scares or even a plot that doesn’t involve people wandering around aimlessly while we await a jump scare, it makes up for being the most energetic of the three. Helmed by first-time director Gary Dauberman, who scripted all the Annabelle’s and the more recent adaptation of Stephen King’s It, the movie attempts to be the Conjuring edition of Captain America: Civil War by finally introducing us to some of the other spectral assholes that dwell within the Warren’s basement of horrors. It’s something you feel the series should have tried a while ago in an attempt to give the series a bit more variety than switching up it’s standard creepy-scene-go-BOO scenarios from a house to a barn (and in the case of The Nun, a bloody great abbey) and it does kind breathe new life (so to speak) into asset up that was dangerously close to growing stale.
Yet, while the film seems hugely excited to bid a fond hello to some of those other shadowy creepers that finally get to have their time in the sun, the film doesn’t do much with them to make them stand apart from your standard spirits. The Bride, a possessed wedding dress, is essentially every screaming female ghost in flowing robes that you’ve ever seen before and the amorphous Black Shuck simply makes no sense (A werewolf made out of mist? Is that what we’re going with?), but the change-obsessed serial killer, The Ferryman proves to have a few cool moments and a possessed TV which features a feed of who’s watching it three seconds into the future scores a memorable moment or two.
And yet, despite all these various creatures on display, there’s a noticable lack of tension in the air that seems to signify that the gas tank of The Conjuring’s ghost-mobile maybe finally running on empty with only the two core, James Wan directed episodes even being remotely memorable. Despite featuring a clutch if dead people, no one actually dies as the mob of marauding monsters manage to score a body count of precisely zero, not exactly an impressive tally for a gang of spectral entities that are supposedly the most dangerous things you could ever run into.
However, while the scares are admittedly thin on the ground, and the timeline is starting to get noticably squiggly (It’s actually unclear when Annabelle Comes Home is actually set. Is it during or after the events of the first Conjuring?), as a box ticking exercise it actually works quite well with welcome, extended cameos for Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson to tie everything together. In fact their presence, plus the more energetic tone feels less like a lean mean scaring machine and more of a self-congratulatory celebration that the filmmakers managed to grind out three whole films about a possessed doll that doesn’t actually do anything and even features a jaunty version of “Dancing In The Moonlight” plays over the end credits.
Oddly, it’s this sense of “fun” that actually make this third installment possibly the most satisfying Annabelle to date and pretty much closes the book of the diabolical doll’s antics for a while – which is something of a relief to be honest as I don’t really care for the Annabelle movies much at all…
Still, you have to give the glaze-eyed thing credit as it’s face has become one of the more recognizable images from modern horror to penetrate pop culture even if all she does is just lie there. However, I think it’s long past time for the Conjuring series to put it’s toys away and make room for something else to take it’s shot…