Imagine that you are taking a tour of the special room at the home of real-life paranormal detectives Ed and Judy Warren, the room with the warning signs and multiple locks on the door where they keep all the creepy stuff they’ve collected through years of investigating the things everybody else is too scared to even admit may exist. For the price of a ticket, you get to wander around, look closely at whatever strikes your fancy, touch what you’ve been told not to touch and, before you leave the room, fully interact with a few of the actual spirits that are attached to the strange totems in the collection.
That would be a cool way to spend an evening.
Watching a barely pieced together movie of generic (and dumb) horror movie kids doing it is not.
Annabelle Comes Home kicks off with a lot of promise as the cinematic versions of the Warrens, the always entertaining Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga (who first played The Warrens in 2013 in The Conjuring), are shown driving the infamous doll of the movie title back to their suburban home for safe keeping. Enroute, the come upon a nasty car accident in the road, offer to help, get turned down, exchange a quip or two with the cop on the scene and then drive away. A few minutes later their car mysteriously breaks down and we are treated to a short scene that encapsulates precisely what makes the movie Warrens so much fun to watch. Ed gets out to see if he can fix the car, while Judy looks at a map to see where they are. As the off-camera fog machine starts working overtime to give the scene some spooky atmosphere, it is revealed they have broken down in front of a cemetery. Before you can say “BOO,” the car is surrounded by zombies who try to kill Ed by shoving him in front of a truck that comes barreling out of the fog. Ed survives while Judy does her best to calmly assure the undead that they are only there to help.
The scene doesn’t end well, but only in the sense that it sort of fizzles out without any satisfying ending at all. The Warrens simply continue home, lock Annabelle up in a special glass display case and get ready to pass the story baton to their daughter, Judy (McKena Grace), her blonde babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and Mary Ellen’s brunette bad girl best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife). The new “stars” of the movie stumble around for a bit trying to weave together enough backstory to keep the audience from leaving before the final scary bits. We learn that Judy has no friends because of her parents’ spooky profession, while Mary Ellen has a crush on a local boy called Bob (Michael Cimino) but is too virginal and shy to act on it. Daniela is mourning over her dead dad. They bake a cake, play a board game, feed the chickens and kill time waiting for something to happen, like Daniela breaking into the room behind the door with the locks and warning signs.
After sitting through so much simplistic exposition, you can almost feel the audience salivating with anticipation that the R-rated horror movie fun is about to begin. Unfortunately, what follows is anything but fun; it’s barely interesting. And why the movie is rated R remains a mystery; it’s not scary, not gory and nobody even swears that much
A huge problem is that first-time director Gary Dauberman, working on script he wrote based on a story by James Wan (the driving force behind The Conjuring, Annabelle, Saw and Insidious horror movie franchises), doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what story he is even trying to tell in Annabelle Comes Home. He pieces together little vignettes focusing on each character, like Daniella facing her fears — and the bloody ghost of her undead father. It’s a cool scene, if a bit too predictable, but it ends abruptly without ever tying in with the bigger story in any meaningful way. The same goes for scenes involving Mary Ellen and a spirit known as The Ferryman, an evil CGI entity based on the legend of a boat rower who brings the undead across the River Styx as long as they pay his fare of silver coins placed on their eyes. Again, it’s kind of fun to watch but never grows into anything more.
His failures with the living in the story, however, pale in comparison to Dauberman fumbling around with the star of the movie, Annabelle. To be fair, it can’t be easy to deal with a horror personality with absolutely no personality. Unlike the other possessed dolls in the horror genre, like Chucky from the Child’s Play franchise or Fats, the ultra-creepy ventriloquist dummy from the 1978 film Magic, Anabelle doesn’t walk or talk; she doesn’t do anything but show up in “surprising” places like sitting in a rocker or hiding under a bed. We never see how she gets there and she never physically attacks her victims. There is just a jump scare, a quick close up on her face and whatever mayhem that follows. Repeat as necessary to fill out running time. It gets very dull very quickly.
As a horror movie protagonist, Annabelle is, at best, an acquired taste. Fans have supported the character through three movies and, depending on the box office for Annabelle Comes Home, there may be more for them in the future. Those who demand more from their iconic movie monsters — like a personality that goes beyond just staring back at the camera — will have to wait until the Warrens return in The Conjuring 3 next year.
- John Black, Annabelle Comes Home