As with all review-caps, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.
It’s been six years since The Conjuring (2013) came out – six years since we were first introduced to that creepy old doll known as Annabelle. We all wanted to know what happened after those poor, plagued nurses turned the doll over to real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Did we find out? Nope. We got a prequel (Annabelle in 2014 – which I loved) and then a prequel to the prequel (Annabelle: Creation in 2017 – which was creepy and fun but not nearly as good). Now, finally, we have our direct sequel in Annabelle Comes Home – a film that I think unfortunately shows the Conjuring-verse suffering from inevitable franchise fatigue.
So what did happen after the Warrens took possession (no pun intended) of the doll? Well, the best part of the movie is that Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as the Warrens. They stick Annabelle in the backseat and have an eventful ride home. First, they drive by an accident where a clairvoyant Lorraine sees the dead victim. Then they get lost taking the detour and their car mysteriously stalls out in front of – where else? – a graveyard.
Lorraine hears the signature whispered line, “I like your doll” behind her. But when she turns the rear view mirror to see, she hears another voice saying, “I’m cold.“ Turns out it’s the car crash victim and Lorraine’s the one who has to tell her she’s dead. Then Lorraine sees all of the spirits in the cemetery gathering in the heavy fog, and Ed gets tossed out into the middle of the road – just in time to nearly get hit by a truck. Lorraine realizes what’s going on and lets us all in on the film’s whole premise (as if we haven’t figured it out already) – saying that the doll is a ‘beacon for other spirits.’
When they finally get home, they’re met by their local priest (Steve Coulter), who accompanies them to their “artifact” room. They find a nice chair for Annabelle to sit in – but as soon as she’s in the room, some of the other objects start to ‘activate.’ They all realize that they need extra protection from the power Annabelle emanates. Conveniently, they just happen to have a glass case that’s from a church and the right size. And in she goes, with the now famous ‘POSITIVELY DO NOT OPEN’ sign on it. And as soon as the case is shut – bam. All goes quiet, and Lorraine confirms with her psychic sense that ‘the evil has been contained.’
So how cool is it to have paranormal investigators for parents? Well, for the Warrens’ young daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), not very. Her parents’ work is making headlines in the paper, and the churning rumor mill makes trouble for Judy at school. She’s harassed by a bully (Luca Luhan), and has no friends to rely on. To make matters worse, she’s inherited her mother’s psychic ability – yep, she sees dead people. And, her birthday’s coming up – but of course, nobody’s exactly jumping at the chance to go to that party.
But help arrives in the form of babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), who shows up to babysit while Ed and Lorraine go out of town. Mary Ellen’s the quintessential good girl next door, and she provides some welcome kindness for Judy, promising they’ll make her an awesome pink cake. While shopping for supplies, Mary Ellen runs into her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) – who’s all sass and unusually curious about the Warrens. They also run into a nice kid named Bob (Michael Cimino) at the checkout, who has the interesting nickname ‘Bob’s Got Balls’ and a huge crush on Mary Ellen – and Mary Ellen likes him too, which Daniela gleefully blabs to him.
So Daniela invites herself over, bringing a gift of roller skates for Judy – but we all know why she’s really there. She suggests that Mary Ellen go with Judy to try them out and of course, Mary Ellen and Judy don’t see any problem at all with leaving a clearly obsessed Daniela alone in the house. She finds the artifact room, and even tries calling out to any spirits to open the locked door for her. No luck. So she gets more serious about her snooping and digs around in the office, finding the keys – where else? – behind a picture of Jesus.
Once inside the room, Daniela does exactly what we all know she shouldn’t do, and touches just about everything. But we also find out that Daniela isn’t just being a pushy little brat – she has a reason for wanting to be in the Warrens’ house. Turns out she’s trying to make contact with her dead father, and believes the spirits attached to the artifacts can help her do it. And Annabelle is only too happy to help, luring Daniela to the case to open it up. Then the smoke detector goes off – uh, oh, Judy’s pink cake is burning. So Daniela leaves – but forgets to lock the case. Annabelle is officially on the loose.
After Mary Ellen and Judy return, all three of the girls can’t help but do some more snooping and start going through the Warrens’ case files in the office. They uncover a few certain files – one about a werewolf, one about a haunted wedding dress and one about a murderer known as the ‘Ferryman’ because he left coins on the eyes of his victims – one of whom looks almost exactly like Mary Ellen. Creeped out, Mary Ellen suggests they do something else and they end up playing a game called ‘Feeley Meeley’ where they have to stick their hands in a box to find an object on a card. And we all know we’re gonna see all that stuff again later.
Just then, Bob’s Got Balls shows up along with the pizza delivery guy, who gives Bob advice on ‘wooing’ Mary Ellen – use some rock and roll. Mary Ellen’s psyched to see him, but being the good girl she is, won’t allow him in the house. After their parting that’s such sweet sorrow, it’s time for Judy’s impromptu birthday, as Mary Ellen and Daniela surprise her with a rescued cake.
Then it’s time for bed – but not before Bob’s Got Balls returns to ‘woo’ his potential new girlfriend with a sweet and awkward rendition of Bread’s ‘Everything I Own’ on the guitar. But then the creeps start, as poor Bob gets suddenly attacked in the heavy fog by something that looks a lot like a werewolf.
Daniela wants to stay but Mary Ellen says she should go home – but only after leaving does Daniela realize that she still has the keys to the artifact room. So she sneaks back in while Mary Ellen tucks Judy into bed and lets her in on Daniela’s secret – that she was driving the car in the crash her father died in. And the bully bothering her at school? Daniela’s little brother. Judy in turn lets Mary Ellen in on her secret – her psychic ability. Mary Ellen tries to ease her anxiety by suggesting that not all the ghosts she sees are bad.
But of course, all the spirits stuck in the artifact room are bad – and thanks to Daniela and Annabelle, they’re all out to play. And here’s where the flick basically splits into a bunch of disconnected stories. There’s Daniela, who gets locked in the artifact room and gets plagued by every bad thing in it – especially the murderous bride in the white gown. Then there’s Mary Ellen, who has the Ferryman after her, dropping coins left and right (all of which she picks up, of course). Then there’s Judy, who has to contend with Annabelle herself (Samara Lee). And then there’s Bob – who’s hiding out from the werewolf in the Warrens’ henhouse. Yeah, they kept chickens.
From this point on, the Warrens’ place basically becomes a giant haunted house, like the kind you walk through around Halloween. Everything goes dark and foggy and it’s all about the jump scares and all the characters doing stupid things in order to facilitate them. Because let’s face it, horror movies depend on people being stupid and doing stupid things. Like playing the Feeley Meeley game in order to find the keys to the artifact room – like wouldn’t you just dump the whole thing out to get the keys? Or hiding in a henhouse? Yeah, I’m looking at you, Bob.
So anyway, everything goes pretty much as you expect it to from that point. The girls (and Bob) run around going through jump scare after jump scare until they’re able to get Annabelle back in the case. And then, just like that, everything goes back to normal. Ed and Lorraine return home and the girls actually tell them the truth of what happened. Lorraine has a heart-to-heart with Daniela and gives her a bracelet from the room, letting her know that her father’s alright on the other side, and not to blame herself for what happened.
And the best part of all? What looks to be just a birthday party for Judy and her parents turns into a pleasant surprise when Mary Ellen, Daniela and Bob show up – along with all the kids Judy had originally invited. Aww. All’s well that ends well. That is, until the inevitable next flick when Annabelle ends up getting out of the case in some other ridiculous way.
The flick has its good points – mostly in having Farmiga and Wilson involved to lend some much-needed weight. But McKenna Grace’s Judy also does a terrific job of holding the fort and showing that same seriousness about the paranormal that her parents do. Madison Iseman’s Mary Ellen and Katie Sarife’s Daniela also have more depth to them than the average horror movie kids. It nails the 70’s in its production design and great taste in music – and there’s the signature easygoing humor.
But I won’t lie, I was really disappointed with this one – even more so than with the last one, which, while creepy, was also seriously goofy. The thing I just don’t understand modern horror – and I’ve said this before in other review-caps – is why they don’t take advantage of the R rating. There’s nothing that happens in this flick that warrants anything harder than a PG-13. Now I’m not saying that horror absolutely requires tons of blood, gore and violence in order to be effective – but this flick just doesn’t scare, period. It’ll creep you out maybe, give you a few moments of tense anticipation – but ultimately, it doesn’t deliver on the promise.
If anything, this flick shows Annabelle as more of a gimmick than something to be afraid of – almost to a jokey degree, and to me that’s a pretty clear sign that this particular franchise has gone past its sell-by date. I think perhaps the passing of Lorraine Warren earlier this year was a sign that the whole Conjuring-verse just needs to wrap it up, lest they risk turning the Warrens’ real-life work into a joke.
Directed by: Gary Dauberman
Written by: Gary Dauberman, James Wan (story)
Release Date: June 26, 2019
Run Time: 1 hr 46 min
Distributor: Warner Bros./New Line Cinema