WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
The Conjuring Universe continues in this third Annabelle film. After their last harrowing encounter with the titular evil doll, Ed and Lorraine Warren are on their way to their next case but, for the sake of them and everyone around them, they drop off Annabelle at their home, where they know she will be kept under control behind a pane of sacred glass in their room of occult objects. Leaving their young daughter, Judy, at home and in the care of her trusted babysitter, Mary Ellen, they head out with the comfort on knowing that their already well-behaved and responsible daughter is in the hands of an equally well behaved and responsible teenage girl and that Annabelle is finally locked away in a place where she can longer cause any harm. Whatever could go wrong?
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
There’s something ironic about the fact that horror, a genre that relies heavily on the element of surprise in order to get the maximum amount of scares out of their audience, might just be the genre with the most amount of sequels, spinoffs and remakes. The Conjuring series is well on its way to making even franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, and Child’s Play looks like the dictionary definition of restraint in terms of milking its own brand.
Keeping the irony train running, this is especially rich considering what a breath of fresh air, the first Conjuring film was when it was released a surprisingly a few years ago. After years of the horror genre (or at least the Hollywood version of it) being dragged through the mud, first by an onslaught of "torture porn" movies and then by the equally obnoxious found-footage gimmick, the Conjuring brought the genre back to its roots in style. It even boasted the "based on a true story" schtick of some truly classic horror films from years past – to say nothing of the way it evoked the Exorcist in reminding us that no genre is more thoroughly Catholic than horror.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s first sequel already proved to be a case of diminishing returns, and despite some shake-ups in the franchise’s directors and writers, the series largely got staler and more and more uninspired as it went on, eventually culminating in one of the worst films of the past decade: The Nun. It was with something of a heavy heart, then, when I first heard the news that not only was there going to be yet another Annabelle movie – mere weeks after the latest Conjuring spinoff, the Curse of la Llorona was met with a worldwide shrug of the shoulders – but that it would be written and directed by the same guy who wrote the Nun! Heaven help us all...
As it turns out, I was being far too harsh on Gary Dauberman. Yes, he wrote the horrifically awful The Nun, but he also wrote the damn good remake of Stephen King’s IT (including the upcoming second part), and he has been praised for helping develop the (admittedly already cancelled) Swamp Thing TV show. More importantly, Annabelle is, despite everything, my absolute favourite Conjuring film since the original. Who saw that coming?
Now, make no mistake, Annabelle Comes Home is far from a masterpiece and is roughly about as scary as Mary Poppins. What it is, though, is a genuine, honest-to-goodness good time. It starts with your usual bit of franchise house cleaning as Ed and Lorraine make a short appearance to return Annabelle to her glass home and to set up the rest of the film, but that’s pretty much all we see of them until the film’s final few minutes. Which is a pity because, for what must be the first time ever, they’re actually pretty entertaining company as they trade quips and chaste flirtation like Mulder and Scully.
Their chirpier, funnier and much less self-serious appearance may be short, but it is also a good indicator of what’s to come. The rest of the film divides its time between being something of a really quite charming and likable period teen-comedy (it really plays into its early ‘70s setting, with Badfinger’s underrated masterpiece of an album, Straight Up, working as an unlikely soundtrack to various parts of the film) and the rest with being the cinematic equivalent of the House of Horrors: loads of obvious jump scares, loads of kooky monster designs, and absolutely no real peril whatsoever.
The Conjuring series may no longer work at all as horror, but Annabelle Comes Home marks the point where the series develops a sense of humour and basically abandons any real attempts at straight-up horror. It finally feels like it knows how lazy and obvious its jump-scares are, so instead of trying to scare us it focuses primarily on giving us some genuinely endearing teen and kid characters (led by the wonderful Mckenna Grace, who has already built up a more impressive filmography than many actors six or seven times her age), a bunch of gags that actually kind of work and a surprisingly sweet and big-hearted core. It also seems to quadruple the amount of jump “scares” but rather than feel like they’re trying to actually scare us, they basically come across like a self-parodic in-joke between filmmakers and audience.
Yeah, these jump-scares still wear out their welcome long before the end of the film and even at just over 100-minutes, the movie could still have done to lose a good twenty minutes but neither of these take away from the overwhelming likability of what is, when you get down to it, a highly cynical cash grab.
I should mention, though, that if you want to see Mckenna Grace in a genuinely exceptional horror property, skip Annabelle the Third and check out the Haunting of Hill House on Netflix instead. It might just be the greatest bit of horror-anything that I have ever, ever seen and the greatest original series yet commissioned by the streaming giant. If, however, you’re in the mood for a fun night at the pictures with loads of goofy jump “scares”, a few decent giggles and a bunch of super likeable teen and tween characters (I know, right?), Annabelle Comes Home is not a half bad choice.