Review: ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ Isn’t A Dumpster Fire
Most of the time horror films are either really good or really bad, and boy do we get plenty of bad ones. There are a smattering of mildly favorable films here and there, but for the most part, this genre’s offerings aggregate around the polar ends of the critical spectrum. If you were to apply that scale to The Conjuring Universe, it would fit pretty well. The first entry: great. The second: okay. The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona, and Annabelle: hot trash. If there were ever a film to fall into the dumpster fire territory this year it would be Annabelle Comes Home.
Being the third entry in a Hollywood horror spinoff franchise makes tees it up for a scathing review. In fact, when I got to the theater for the screening, I contemplated leaving right then and there to save me the trouble. But in a miraculous turn of events, Annabelle Comes Home is not the complete train wreck you or I would have expected. Due in large part to its variability and full steam ahead approach to pacing, this haunted house movie ends up being not half bad.
The plot, simple: when Ed and Lorraine Warren are away Annabelle will play. With the Warrens out of town, their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) is left with a baby sitter who invites her nosey and skeptical friend over. Aware of the Warren’s history with the paranormal, the friend snoops around their demonic storage room where all the spiritual vessels from the couple’s investigation are housed, and as you would guess, she unleashes Annabelle from her imprisonment, subsequently opening the film to all sorts of spooky happenings.
The narrative is completely besides the point in this film. Everyone and everything is one dimensional in every respect, and events transpire solely to facilitate the next scare. It’s stupid people doing stupid things without fail for an hour and a half, so if you’re looking for horror with meaning, this ain’t it chief. But Annabelle’s narrative simplicity would have been detrimental had it not been for the execution of scares.
A key component of this haunted house movie is Annabelle’s ability to summon other spirits like a beacon. With Annabelle out of her case, a litany of other demonic beings descend onto the Warren’s home looking for souls to take. The benefit for us — though not for the teens— is the shear variety that comes with the premise. All sorts of poltergeists, demons, ghouls, and monsters make their appearance and give their own flavor of fear inducing terror. Though the title includes our creepy doll, Annabelle herself makes up a small portion of the on screen scares, being one entity in the grand scheme of things.
But when the scares start, they don’t let up. Akin to the variety and pace of 2017’s IT, Annabelle Comes Home’s plotting focuses on individual scenes with different scares in each. Because there are such a variety, each monster gets their own scene, and the film systematically alternates between them. The benefit of this is an all you can eat buffet of scares with different rules, forms, and methods from scene to scene. I won’t go into too much detail as to not give away the creativity held by these ghouls, but the uniqueness found in each stands out as one of the film’s better elements.
The scares aren’t played too cheap either. Most of it is rinse and repeat jump scares, but the execution is respectable none the less, causing you to white knuckle at times and even tense up in the final act. The scares don’t derive from a thematic source — i.e. some internal or external conflict within our characters is what is meant to be scare audiences — so expect to be entertained by the popcorn scares of this Hollywood horror film. It’s by no means a masterpiece of modern horror, but I would be lying if I wasn’t engaged while watching.
While horror films have an innate ability to be unintentionally comical, this film avoids the stereotype its very being calls for. The Conjuring Universe is getting to the point of mainstay horror franchise along the lines of of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Saw, and the vast majority of those sequels are less than stellar. Being the 7th film in the series and given the genre’s penchant for bad filmmaking, expectations were understandably low, but Annabelle Comes Home pulls through and just manages to move the needle enough to earn a positive review. A real surprise on my end.