Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Review: ANNABELLE COMES HOME

by Rob DiCristino
More like Annabelle Go Home, amirite?

Imagine a pleasant suburban home. It’s just before dark, midsummer. Imagine a young woman sitting on the couch. Blonde, probably, but it’s up to you. She’s reading a book or staring passively at the television. Suddenly, she hears a noise. A bump. A creak. She ignores it at first, but her curiosity soon gets the best of her. She rises and creeps slowly across the room, down a narrow hallway and toward a locked door. She’s uneasy. The bump becomes a bang. The creek becomes a screech. She’s terrified, but she has to know what’s making that sound. It’s too late to turn back. She can feel her heart beating through her chest, and the space between every step feels like a lifetime. It’s torturous. Time seems to stretch, to even stop entirely. We hold our breath as she reaches out toward the door at the end of the hall. Her fingers wrap around the door knob, turn it, and push it forward. She moves slowly into the darkened room. The door closes behind her. We wait.

Now imagine this, over and over again, for one hundred and six minutes.
That’s Annabelle Comes Home, the newest — sixth, at the time of this writing — entry in the Conjuring cinematic universe. Directed by series screenwriter Gary Dauberman (who also co-wrote 2017’s It: Chapter One), it picks up around the time of the original Conjuring movie, when Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) first take possession of the demonic doll. The supernatural investigators determine that, while not technically “haunted,” Annabelle is a conduit for supernatural events; spirits and specters are drawn to her presence. They lock her behind consecrated glass, warning their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) never to disturb her. But, because things need to happen in movies, the Warrens leave Judy in the overnight care of teens Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and Daniela (Katie Sarife), the latter of whom is fascinated by the Warrens’ reputation as speakers for the dead. You can see where this is going.

And going and going and going. After faking us out with a Warren-centric prologue (the couple return for the end, but those hoping for a secret Conjuring prequel will be disappointed), Annabelle Comes Home follows the young ladies as they pass a long evening in their haunted house. Judy’s supernatural sensitivity alienates her from school peers, so she’s eager for the older girls’ attention. Mary Ellen, bright and outgoing, bakes cakes and flirts with the sheepish Bob (Michael Cimino). Bad Influence Daniela digs furtively through the Warren’s case files in search of a solution to a mysterious problem. These three plotlines rarely intersect and, at times, seem to occur in completely different movies. Each character has multiple opportunities to hear a noise, react to it, creep slowly toward it, and be jump-scared by it. The action never escalates, the narrative never tries to congeal into anything coherent, and the same horror beats repeat so many times that it almost becomes hilarious.
Rising star Mckenna Grace (who, amidst a star turn in Gifted, has already played a young Tonya Harding, Carol Danvers, and Sabrina Spellman) does her level best to make Judy Warren work, but she’s cut around and interrupted so much that her performance is diluted into a series of knowing glances and cold asides. Another version of Annabelle Comes Home makes the fledgling medium the centerpiece; it releases the Warrens’ demon menagerie so that Judy can learn to put them back in their cages. Not this version, though. This one mostly trades Judy’s spiritual awakening for Daniela’s misguided search for emotional closure. She spends so much time banging on haunted pianos and ringing bells in the demon closet that the movie gives up on her, at one point, and the cut back to her cowering in a corner elicits Annabelle Comes Home’s biggest unintentional laugh.
All this makes Annabelle Comes Home more a VR experience than a movie. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a haunted house adventure (this entry continues the series’ stylistic nods toward ‘60s and ‘70s horror staples), but without a cogent story or meaningful character/lore development, each moment of would-be tension comes off as generic and interchangeable. It’s hard not to feel like Annabelle Comes Home was made to squeeze footage out of sets that were about to be demolished or actors with a few days left on their contracts. It’s a run through familiar territory that introduces nothing new or innovative. It feels cheap, perfunctory. Pivoting the Conjuring franchise into an anthology series “hosted” by Ed and Lorraine Warren is a decent enough idea — Lorraine explains the “lesson” at the end of this adventure, a move that could be easily repeated from here on — but it would require far more compelling stories than this one.

4 comments:

  1. Best opening paragraph to a review in recent memory! Cracked me up.

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  2. This is such a great review, Rob!

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  3. I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but I actually found it to be the best film in the Conjuring cinematic universe (or w/e). I liked how the Warrens were supporting characters, leaving the heavy lifting to three very engaging younger performers who aren't nearly as prepared for this madness as Ed and Lorraine are. I also felt like the scares were some of the best in the franchise. Even though the set-ups are basically the same as those of nearly every scare in the franchise, the pay-offs really got me. Dauberman has certainly learned well from all the talented directors he's worked with.

    Idk, I just really enjoyed this one WAY more than I thought I would.

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