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  Movie Reviews  

Annabelle Comes Home

The Conjuring "franchise" rolls on, with another cash-grab further tarnishing the reputation of what offered one of the best one-two punches of any horror duo. Monetization of James Wan's universe has led to a large number of subpar spin-offs. I can't say that Annabelle Comes Home, the third feature focused on the creepy girl doll, is the worst (because it has plenty of competition) but it's easily among the dumbest.

I'll admit to feeling gypped, but it's my fault. I took the film's trailer, which heavily featured Ed and Judy Warren (the mainline films' protagonists), at face value, assuming that their involvement augured a production closer to The Conjuring 2 than the cinematic fecal matter that emerged afterward to enrich Warner Brothers' coffers. I think just about every shot featuring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson is in that trailer. The adult Warrens are in a 10-minute prologue (which explains how Annabelle ended up in their collection) and a two-minute epilogue. They're absent for the entire main story, which takes place inside their house but focuses on their adolescent daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace); her babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman); and Mary Ellen's best friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife).

The essential story is as bare-bones as one can imagine for a horror scenario. With her parents away, 10-year old Judy is left alone with Mary Ellen, a high school senior. They both know the rules about the "museum" of cursed/haunted artifacts inside the house but Daniela, who stops by, is driven both by curiosity and a deeper reason. As a result of various contrivances, she makes her way into the locked room and opens the glass door to Annabelle's display/prison. The rest of the movie chronicles the protagonists' supernatural encounters in what becomes a haunted house. First time director Gary Dauberman seeks to lighten the mood by introducing a potential love interest for Mary Ellen, the cute-but-inept Bob (Michael Cimino -- not the Deer Hunter Michael Cimino), whose wooing methods are straight out of Say Anything.

To his credit, Dauberman does a good job establishing a spooky atmosphere, although this may be the first time I can remember when it's foggy inside a house. The smoke machine was clearly working overtime. To the extent that a horror film is about cascading jump-scares and musical stingers, Annabelle Comes Home can be said to work. Unfortunately, outside of those repeated instances, which become unintentionally funny after one too many, the movie offers almost nothing. The story is nonsensical (with no consequences -- a problematic issue for sliding a movie into an established chronology) and relies exclusively on the horror trope of characters doing the most idiotic thing imaginable in every situation. Stick your hand into a dark hole and what do you expect to happen?

Annabelle Comes Home was made with maximum profit in mind. Although the Annabelle doll is heavily featured in the advertising campaign, its screen time is minimal and it rarely moves. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson did their filming in a couple of days and the epilogue is so bizarrely framed that it's as if they were added via a green screen process. The special effects budget appears to have been miniscule with very little about the effects that one could rightfully call "special."

Although it's fair to expect a horror movie to be replete with scares, those typically come in service of a storyline. Horror only works as more than a momentary diversion if the narrative is well-constructed and the characters are compelling - neither of which is the case in Annabelle Comes Home. The film's attempt to craft an emotionally resonant backstory for Daniela is undercut by the flat, awkward performance of Katie Sarife, who can act "scared" but isn't memorable when attempting to portray other emotions.

It's hard to say whether Annabelle Comes Home represents a new low for films set in the Conjuring Universe but it's the most obviously commercial, quickly assembled with little concern for anything more than providing a funhouse experience in exchange for a few bucks.

© 2019 James Berardinelli

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