In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
When it comes to cinematic universes, Marvel pretty much has the game on lock. Their model is often imitated but never duplicated. In terms of success, only one exponential franchising project has even come close: The Conjuring Universe. What began back in 2013 with a stylish haunted house throwback is now seven movies deep, with countless short film tie-ins and future installments all in varied stages of production. Overall it’s been a mixed bag, but for my money the entire thing has been fading. Each new entry seems more contrived than the last, typically serving as a commercial for the next supernatural baddie in the parade.
Annabelle Comes Home is the third Annabelle movie, following Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation. The titular doll was first introduced in The Conjuring as an exhibit in the famed museum of horrors at the home of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who despite being monstrously awful con artists in the real world, are the emotional center of The Conjuring Universe. In real life, this supposedly haunted doll took the form of beloved children’s character Raggedy Andy, but for the purpose of the Annabelle films it has been updated to a super unsettling porcelain child. Back in 2014, Annabelle gave us a story about a family who battled with the doll, ending at the prelude of The Conjuring. The following prequel, Annabelle: Creation shows us how the doll became possessed in the first place. This new entry aims to fill a presumable gap between the opening of The Conjuring, where the Warrens first take the doll off the hands of a terrified student, and whatever story comes next in the increasingly convoluted larger timeline.
The Warrens take the doll home, bless her, lock her up in a box made of church glass, and then leave the movie forever. Since this entry is not part of the Conjuring seres proper, it therefore cannot be explicitly about the Warrens. I don’t make the rules, but thems the rules. Instead, Annabelle Comes Home follows their daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) and her babysitter Mary (Madison Iseman). The Warrens are going away on an overnight adventure (presumably to another haunting that we’ll see in some future entry), and they’ve given explicit instructions to their daughter NOT to open the door to their museum of the macabre. This is not a problem for young Judy, who shares some of her mother’s psychic ability and is well aware of the supernatural phenomena trapped within the forbidden area of home. Unfortunately for she and Mary, Mary’s friend is coming by for a visit, and is hell bent on entering the room herself in a misguided attempt at speaking with her deceased father one last time. Naturally, she opens the cabinet housing the Annabelle doll and all hell breaks loose. You see, Annabelle isn’t like Chucky. She’s not killing people with her tiny doll hands. Instead, Annabelle acts as a divining rod for other malevolent spirits. This means that every item in the Warren’s museum is suddenly imbued with demonic evil.
It’s certainly a clever idea, but it’s done in the exact same style as all previous entries, with exactly the same level of filmmaking panache. Basically, this is more of the same: a parade of jump scares and eery set-pieces, some of which look fantastic, some of which look gloomy and insufficiently lit. If you’ve seen a spinoff of The Conjuring, you know exactly what to expect. While the base entries manage a level of class and technique, these spin-offs are typically factory farmed, plug-and-play horror romps. Some are better than others (both The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona are nigh unwatchable) and none are really memorable.
What is memorable is the way that each entry in the franchise brings us the design of a new villain to expect in future entries. For Annabelle Comes Home, this comes in the form of “The Ferryman.” Back in the vague era of “the old days” people would put coins over the eyes of fresh corpses as a method of paying a toll to said ferryman as he chaperones them into the afterlife. What this means for this movie is a lot of spooky, sometimes inspired imagery involving coin-eyed beasties.
Before I go, allow me a chance to soapbox once again about movie theater etiquette. My experience watching Annabelle Comes Home is the one of the worst I’ve ever had, and it was all because of two people who couldn’t seem to get it through their heads that movies are unable to hear the crowd, and that the rest of the crowd is not interested in hearing commentary from an idiot. When “please quiet down,” “seriously, please quiet down,” and “shut your dumb fucking mouth” failed, I was forced to watch the film with the added bonus of performatively incredulous interjections as well as basic descriptions of what was happening on screen in real time. Literally any time that a noun performed a verb on screen, we got backtalk from the peanut gallery. A few times, when words failed this duo of adult-aged toddlers, they would just make long, drawn out moaning sounds. When the man sitting directly behind me began counting their indiscretions out loud as if it were some kind of help, I almost left. It was an absolute nightmare.
Annabelle Comes Home opens in Philly theaters tonight.