Determined to keep Annabelle from wreaking more havoc, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) lock the possessed doll in the artifacts room in their house. But when the doll awakens the room’s evil spirits, it soon becomes an unholy night of terror for the couple’s ten-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), her friends, and their young babysitter.
When it comes to The Conjuring Universe series of films, it is almost a universally agreed-upon thing that the main Conjuring films are absolutely incredible but the spin-offs (Annabelle, The Nun) are absolutely terrible. It’s strange because these are stories that genuinely had the potential to be excellent standalone movies in one of the most unexpected film franchises of all time.
This franchise is wildly popular and is the second highest-grossing horror movie franchise of all time right behind Godzilla. The first two Conjuring movies presented a type of horror that felt almost scarily real to audiences, myself included. The original film, which dealt with the case of the Perron family in 1971, who experience horrifically disturbing events in their home, was so haunting and believable that it left me startled.
It’s interesting because a lot of mainstream horror movies in this generation can be quite awful, really. Usually, I find that the independent horror films of today like The Witch and Midsommar are some of the best of the genre, whereas movies like The Nun and Ouija are painstakingly hard to sit through.
And speaking of The Nun, that was probably one of the most disappointing movies ever for me. The marketing material made the film look truly scary and unnerving, with the locale at a chilling Gothic castle in 1952 Romania further propelling the atmosphere. While the movie was very atmospheric and dreary, the film, in general, was just incredibly boring, sloppily written, and most unfortunate of all, not scary.
So really, whenever a Conjuring movie spin-off comes out, I never get excited to see it. I just know that I’m going to be underwhelmed in the end, which is why I never went ahead to watch Annabelle Comes Home in theatres back in 2019. I figured I would probably just wait until it landed on Netflix or something, and that’s exactly what happened this month on the Canadian version of the streaming platform.
With nothing else to watch, I hit play on the third Annabelle film and found myself surprised at how much I didn’t hate it. Then again, it’s still not a good movie. It actually boasts a fairly solid set-up though. The Conjuring films focus on Ed and Lorraine Warren as they try to solve these chilling cases, and it’s always a treat to see Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga team up together as the two investigators. They feel real and grounded in their roles and I honestly can’t see anybody else portraying them at this point.
And while Annabelle Comes Home features them in a few scenes, it really follows their daughter Judy and a bunch of her friends as well as her babysitter for the majority of the running time. Mckenna Grace does a decent job in the role of Judy, especially for a child actor. Whenever something creepy happens, she looks genuinely concerned and uncomfortable. She brings a sense of unease to every scene that calls for it which was nice to see.
Yes, this new group of characters is nowhere near as interesting as Ed and Lorraine Warren but this movie didn’t want to tell yet another Ed and Lorraine story – it wanted to focus on a new band of characters and it mostly works in this regard.
But where this movie really falters is in its horror content. It runs at a total of one-hundred-and-six minutes which is fairly normal for a mainstream horror flick, and yet it doesn’t necessarily feature too many scares. For the majority of the movie, we are taken through numerous creepy-looking rooms filled with weird dolls and statues with coins for eyes, which is creepy to look at for a bit. But after you see it so many times, it no longer becomes creepy and it eventually starts to look normal.
There are a lot of scenes that seem to build with suspense to an inevitable scene that’s going to release that tension and give you a good scare, but… the scare never comes. Ninety percent of this movie is tension that never amounts to anything more than a strange old man standing in the background of a scene.
It’s not until the last thirty minutes in which the film goes all-out with its scares and does so much to the point where it can become genuinely confusing as to what’s happening and who is getting attacked by which spirit or demon. These scares should have been more evenly spread out throughout the movie. Having all of this happen at the very end results in a movie that seems genuinely pointless and boring for the first hour and ten minutes.
The Conjuring movies are infinitely rewatchable because, while long, they make sure to spread scares evenly throughout, which ensures that no matter which scene you’re watching, there will be some sort of creepiness to keep you on your toes. Annabelle Comes Home is a movie that feels very atmospheric and uncomfortable at times, but that facade quickly wears off as soon as you realize that it is not going anywhere.
Director of photography Michael Burgess has some incredibly impressive shots throughout the movie which give it a more uncomfortable look and feel, but it would’ve been even better had the movie itself been creepy the way his camera work was.
I really shouldn’t be so surprised that this movie was underwhelming because it was directed by Gary Dauberman, the same filmmaker behind the two worst films in the franchise, the aforementioned Annabelle and The Nun. Not only that, but he also served as a producer on The Curse of La Llorona, one of the biggest missed opportunities in mainstream horror of the past ten years.
As it stands right now, they are still planning to make at least a few more Conjuring spin-off films – another Nun movie (please don’t suck) and The Crooked Man, which will focus on the character featured in The Conjuring 2. That one might be good, but for the most part, I hope they just stick to the main series of films.
Or if they insist upon making a ton of spinoffs, they should seriously go back to the drawing board because so far, there’s only been one good spinoff in this franchise – Annabelle: Creation. Other than that, this cinematic universe is almost always a let-down. I am certainly willing to give it more chances especially with Crooked Man, but as it stands right now, this is certainly not a cinematic universe worth rooting for, except when it comes to the main films. I’m waiting for this franchise to become an absolute phenomenon but I’m not sure if that is ever going to happen. Maybe one day.
Overall Grade: C-
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence and terror
Directed by: Gary Dauberman
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: June 26, 2019
Running Time: 106 minutes