Beautifully made, creepy and entertaining, Annabelle Comes Home provides the continuity with the other stories we’ve missed without being part of an overall arc. Good show.
Now, this is more like it: with Annabelle Comes Home, we can put The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona firmly behind us, and celebrate the heart of the so-called Conjuring universe… the home of Ed and Lorraine Warren. From here, all their demonological investigations start; and to here, many artifacts from those investigations return to stay. Ed and Lorraine were a real couple (Lorraine having departed earlier this year), and the “Occult Museum” is also real: Annabelle Comes Home is a story about the impact on the Warrens’ daughter, her babysitter and the babysitter’s friend when the famous creepy doll is accidentally freed from its case in that room.
So yes, it’s a piece of fiction, but based in a real setting (like Paddington) and featuring a handful of real people (sorry, forget I mentioned Paddington). This gives the film a touch of extra credibility, as well as hooks to draw nerdy fans into some trivia research. The set is beautifully realized, with lovingly captured details and lush sixties décor mixing with the antique: I was there, in that place and time, and even the people talking farther back in the cinema barely touched my mood.
The mood was also helped by the wise decision to use again the same cinematographer (Michael Burgess) and composer (Joseph Bishara) from the earlier films; not to mention the return of James Wan as writer and producer: Annabelle Comes Home truly felt like a Conjuring film… even though the Warrens themselves only served as scene-setting bookmarks for the story.
The focus was truly on Judy Warren, their adolescent daughter, and about time: she’d been an afterthought in the earlier films, and it was easy to wonder what life had been like for her. Her character is given some breadth: sensitive and intelligent while struggling to maintain friendships. Judy is expertly portrayed by Mckenna Grace, who – barely thirteen years old herself – is becoming a very familiar face (Designated Survivor, The Haunting of Hill House, I, Tonya, etc.). Her Judy is such a warm, real girl that the conclusion of the film really touched me.
(You may have read that Annabelle Comes Home has a lame ending: I didn’t see it that way. It’s essentially a short, but faithful, side-quest from the Conjuring series; so I found it perfectly apt to be wrapped up neatly without any foreshadowing of doom to come in additional chapters. Judy has a perspective of her own, and a life of her own… we might see more of her, and we might not.)
The other key characters in this film serve largely as modern horror clichés: Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), the virginal babysitter; and her more worldly-wise best mate Daniela (Katie Sarife, Youth & Consequences), who secretly wants to contact her deceased father. Their roles may have been Scooby Doo-quality 2D, but they were well cast, and Iserman and Sarife both played their parts well; it would be great to see their faces become as familiar as Grace’s. They are naïve young women (well, you could say innocent to supernatural affairs, anyway), and strike quite a contrast to the nurses who hand over the doll Annabelle to the Warrens at the start of the film (and who we saw acquire the doll at the end of Annabelle). The nurses appear to have found out what trouble the doll brings the hard way (though we never quite find out how), as Mary Ellen and Daniela do during the course of one night in this film.
This isn’t a scary film, though it is damn creepy at times… but above all, Annabelle Comes Home is entertaining. As you might know from the earlier Annabelle films, this isn’t a doll that walks around attacking people, but rather one which is a conduit for a nasty spirit, and thus gives others nearby a cue to cause havoc too (much like the newly-woke Ceasar did in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). So once the doll is no longer “contained”, one artifact after another comes to life; some in malicious ways, some sinister, and some… well, it’s a proper showcase of what cursed and haunted objects can get up to or lead to. I don’t mean to imply that there’s no plot: there is, but it is a simple one, embellished by marvelous special effects and atmosphere.
As well as the set and the cast, my applause also goes to Gary Dauberman, who made his directorial debut with Annabelle Comes Home, as well as writing the screenplay from Wan’s story (he wrote earlier Conjuring films, and the recent Swamp Thing series). I would not have guessed it was his first at all: he wove together all the elements well and maintained the style of the series while giving it a little character of its own; much like the offspring of an established couple.