The ostensibly classy Conjuring series turns into a predictable haunted-house spookfest.
Annabelle Comes Home is yet another piece of the Conjuring universe, which seems to be the franchise to turn to for empty yet fairly serviceable horror. The Conjuring is still the most loved of the series and at best, it’s fine, saying relatively little about contemporary fears or even grief or family life. But it’s still a relatively tightly constructed ghost story with some good, old-school scares. Annabelle Comes Home continues this tradition, while somehow managing to say even less.
The third film in the Annabelle series and the seventh in the larger franchise, it focuses on the Warrens’ (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) daughter Judy (McKenna Grace), who spends a night home alone with the babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) while her mom and dad are out of town. The trouble comes when Mary Ellen’s nosy pal Daniela (Katie Sarife) invites herself over and immediately tries to get a peek at Ed and Lorraine’s collection of cursed items, to which the infamous Annabelle has just been added. And, well, you can pretty much guess what happens from there.
The doll gets loose and a whole host of ghosts and demons start wreaking havoc on the young girls including everything from a murderous bride to a modern hound of the Baskervilles. While this seems like an opportunity for some spooky fun, it ends up feeling pretty lazy.
In fact, that’s how you can read most of Annabelle Comes Home. Writer Gary Dauberman (whose other credits include 2017’s It) uses his directorial debut to do little else than let us know just how much he loves other (and frankly better) horror movies. Every sound effect, shot, and scare feels like it was plucked verbatim from somewhere else, like a veritable grab bag of horror Wilhelm screams.
When Lorraine’s alone in the car and needs to pull up a map, of course she’s going to unfold the entire thing and turn just so that she blocks every window with it, priming us for a jump scare fakeout. When Mary Ellen bends down to sweep up broken glass, she’s going kneel just so in front of a large glass window where eerie fog conceals the demonic dog we know is out there trying to break in. So many characters open doors with painfully slow creaks so many times you might lose track trying to count them all.
Annabelle Comes Home is less of a ghost story and more of a carnival haunted house.
To be clear, the pages of the horror playbook Dauberman is relying on so heavily still work. The problem that keeps them from working well is twofold. First, there just simply isn’t enough being done to make any of it feel fresh. It’s less of an homage and more of a straight knockoff that keeps the hits from really landing. Second, Dauberman’s script has nothing to say.
The story isn’t really about exploring Judy’s psychic powers which mirror her mother’s. It’s not really about kids growing up. It makes a sort of hamfisted attempt to talk about grief through Daniela (mid-movie we realize she’s so transfixed by the Warrens’ spooky collection because she recently lost her father), but even that isn’t really the point.
Annabelle Comes Home is less of a ghost story and more of a carnival haunted house. It takes us into a world where goblins and ghouls pop out every so often and after a fairly enjoyable 106 minutes of startles and scares, we go back out into the world and forget about it. There’s no reason for any of the ghosts and malevolent forces at play to care about attacking any of the characters.
They’re there and that’s enough. But in an era where modern horror is finally getting more of the respect it’s long deserved thanks to critical darlings like Hereditary, Get Out, and It Follows—each of which uses the genre to explore complex and deep-seated fears in society—something as empty as Annabelle Comes Home can’t really help but be white noise.
Annabelle Comes Home spooks its way into theaters Wednesday, June 26.