Annabelle Comes Home, the seventh film in the massively popular Conjuring universe and the third focusing on the eponymous creepy doll, hits theaters this week hoping to scare fans yet again. Unfortunately, the series seems to be continuing on its downward trend, as the movie is unable to live up to its tremendous potential.
In the film, Annabelle is let loose from her protective enclosure, causing all of the haunted or otherwise supernatural items locked in the Warrens’ room to wreak havoc on the Warrens’ daughter and her babysitter. If you are a fan of the franchise, this is certainly an intriguing concept, as this room contains plenty of intriguing ideas for scares and ways to build the mythology. Unfortunately, instead of having all of the talismans teaming up, the movie instead feels like The Conjuring’s island of misfit toys, as if it were a compilation of all the ideas that were rejected for the main films.
One of the most frustrating things about the movie is that it feels like an inferior copy of what Wan has already done. It seems like most of these films have started with the same shot, a close-up of one of the doll’s eyes. However, in this case, the movie goes even further in the mimicry, showing us the exact same scene yet again in which the nurse gives the doll to the Warrens. As such, from the beginning, you get checked out of the film realizing that it isn’t going to be as original as it sounds.
Perhaps the series would be better off if different decisions were made as to who to hire as directors. The best entries are directed by James Wan himself or a legitimate horror director (David F. Sandberg, Annabelle: Creation). Some of the worst entries were directed by people who had other creative roles in previous movies. Gary Dauberman, who directed Annabelle Comes Home, makes his debut on this film after having been a writer on other spin-offs in the series. If he had tried to have his own style, rather than trying to emulate Wan, the movie would have been far better.
Also disappointing is the film’s inability to create connections with the human characters. Unlike many of the other movies in the series, this script relied on the age-old horror trope of stupid characters doing stupid things every time they are given a decision to make. As a result, you almost want the characters to suffer and perish, and that’s not how movies like this are supposed to work.
The babysitter’s best friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife), is a prime example of this type of annoying character. Her personality feels very manipulative and unapproachable anyway, so she doesn’t start on your good side. Then, her repeated refusal to heed the multiple warnings she is given — verbally and in writing (on signs that she seems to stare at for far too long) — bothers you even further. Furthermore, she is given a forced and generic backstory that doesn’t do particularly much to make you sympathize with the character.
The film’s other two leads — the Warren’s daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace), and her babysitter, Ellen (Madison Iseman) — are much more likable than Daniela, although they still aren’t given adequate development. One of the reasons why their characters are more likable may be that the actresses that portray them do a much better job, but beyond that fact, their backstories don’t feel as forced. It is easier to get behind them because they have the primal goal of survival, not some far-fetched, tear-jerking motivation like Daniela. And the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga)? They’re nothing more than glorified cameos.
Furthermore, the demons aren’t particularly well-developed. This film relies on you having seen the two main movies and the two doll-centric spin-offs to understand what is happening. For example, the repeated claims of “She wants a soul.” don’t make much sense unless you have seen the first Annabelle.
The single most disappointing thing about the film, though, is that it was unable to take the world in interesting new directions. So many of the props in the room have the potential to be interesting, like the samurai armor, the toy monkey, or the supernatural television. Instead, the main antagonists of the movie are the Annabelle doll (which is to be expected) and an entity named The Ferryman whose talisman is… coins? It is just as generic as it sounds, being a figure in multiple mythologies.
At least the production design of the film is impressive, but that is the bare minimum. To be fair, a majority of the props utilized in the movie already existed, so it would have been embarrassing if they hadn’t at least looked good. The cinematography, on the other hand, is lackluster. The framing is mediocre at best, the lighting is often horrible, and the zooms aren’t great.
Of course, most audiences will be seeing this film in the hope of being scared, but by this point, this series has worn out its welcome. Back to copying Wan, this universe has a very clear formula for jump scares. Once you pick up on that formula (it only takes about two movies to do so), the movies lose their element of surprise and just aren’t scary anymore. All of the scares in this film feel telegraphed and obvious.
In pretty much every form of the word, Annabelle Comes Home is a disappointment. This very easily could have been one of the best entries the franchise or even one of the best horror movies of the year, but instead it ends up being one of the worst. Is it going to make a ton of money? Probably, but it shouldn’t. This series needs to come to an end while it still can.
Annabelle Comes Home hits theaters on June 26.