Cast: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife
Writer: James Wan (story); Gary Dauberman (screenplay)
Director: Gary Dauberman
Music: Joseph Bishara
If you didn’t already know, the movie that started it all, The Conjuring, spawned an entire universe of movies branching off that first story. The Conjuring Universe includes the Annabelle
franchise. Annabelle Comes Home is the third movie in the Annabelle storyline.
Having seen the first two Annabelle movies, I wasn’t particularly thrilled about seeing this one. I was anticipating a botched storyline, bizarre paranormal activity, and a dissatisfying ending. But to my surprise, this film ended up being the haunted house movie I’ve waited for all my life.
Summary: When the Warrens add the famous Annabelle doll to their paranormal collection, a frivolous teen unknowingly unleashes its evil while the Warrens are away. The evil of Annabelle, and everything else locked in the Warren’s artifact room, attacks the Warrens’ daughter, the babysitter, and the frivolous teen. With the intelligence of her demonologist parents and the strength of God Almighty, young Judy Warren must contain the evil of Annabelle to end the haunting.
What Worked For This Film:
I was pretty shocked to see Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga starring in an Annabelle movie considering the history of that side of the Conjuring Universe. They were included in the plotline simply for namesake on the credits, but their characters played a vital role in the plotline. The movie couldn’t have worked without them.
Mckenna Grace was an amazing Judy Warren. She’s an adorable little girl who played distressed very well, and who served “fear” to us in the true light of her character. Typical little girls in movies—especially seeing monsters as terrifying as the ones Mckenna had to face in this movie—go screaming and terror is imminent in their faces the whole movie. But Mckenna’s character as the daughter of demonologists showed strength in the face of evil, and Mckenna flawlessly fulfilled her character.
Madison Iseman played the responsible babysitter and flustered teen with a crush so well. Her character, Mary Ellen, was completely dismissive when the paranormal activity started. Even up to the milk glass falling off the counter, she was confused by it but still unafraid. And when she was afraid, she performed so realistically that it resonated on a personal level with me. During the scene where she’s pursuing the coins to the ferryman, the way she clutched that flashlight close to her chest to make herself as less vulnerable as possible…I felt that in my gut.
Katie Sarife as Daniela played a great bad influence friend with a sob backstory unlike one we were expecting. I think her character was so psychologically realistic. I loved Daniela’s trauma and how it affected her character to perceive the supernatural.
Michael Cimino as our comic relief, Bob, was amazing. Both as a shy teenage boy with a crush and as a terrified, werewolf-battling hero.
False Jump Scares
I remember being in the theater, clutching the armrest, riddled with tension from the suspense, waiting for the first jump scare when Lorraine opens that map against the car window. We all knew something was going to be on the other side to startle her, but she ripped that map down and…voilà. Nothing was there. That pleased me more than anything in the world. I fully prepared myself to not appear scared in the movie theater only for the movie crew to say, “Gotcha”. I loved it!
Near the end of the movie when the Feeley Meeley game presents the card with the key’s picture for Mary Ellen to retrieve it and she sits before the box mentally preparing herself to reach into the unknown, we are all suspended in anticipation, knowing something was about to leap out of the box or hurt her the instant her hand went into that box. Then Judy dives her hand in, grabs the key and holds it up without any interference from the paranormal whatsoever. Another set up of suspense for nothing. I laughed out loud at that one.
I will give props to the coin trick with the ferryman’s materialization. I’m all for that false visualization. When Mary Ellen lifted that flashlight up to where those coins were floating and we saw no body attached to what we knew to be a head with eyes, and then she shined on the coins and they fell. That was artwork to me.
Same thing in Annabelle: Creation when that little girl threw the bedsheet on Annabelle and then Annabelle stood up wearing it. AS the demon approached the little girl, it gradually stepped on the sheet and pulled it off itself to reveal nothing. I was breathless and enthused because that’s how ghosts really work sometimes. A lot of bravado and then nothing.
The phone call Mary Ellen made to Lorraine when the activity started happening came to mind first. Mary Ellen was speaking to Lorraine, or so it sounded like, until Lorraine responded with, “Can I speak to Annabelle?” Lorraine’s voice morphed into an eerie old woman’s voice, instructing Mary Ellen to give Annabelle a soul. “She wants a soul, dear.” The call created hopelessness in the situation, just how the demonic like their victims.
The running footsteps in this movie got me every time. The first time it happened with the evil bride, I curled up in my seat and clutched my heart, ready to die from terror. The second time it happened after Annabelle was thrown from the closet, all you hear is fast, thumping footsteps coming up right behind us! My entire body seized up on that one. Anything evil running at you immediately induces panic, and that scare tactic was executed flawlessly in this movie.
The psychic TV was a brilliant idea. When Daniela saw herself in the TV in the Warren’s paranormal room, she saw not a reflection of herself in current time, but a prediction of herself in the minutes to come. What worked best about the TV wasn’t the oracle aspect, but that Daniela was seeing the supernatural occurrences that were about to happen to her before they did. At the end of the TV’s feature in the film, it projected Daniela with a bloody face, disfigured and terrified. Good thing she didn’t answer that phone, huh?
Tying the Story Together
In Judy’s room when the lamp fell to the floor, with each color of the spinning wheel, Annabelle shed its manifestations until it exposed itself as the demon oppressing the doll. It showed the shape of the doll, the form of Bee from Annabelle Creation, Annabelle Higgins from Annabelle, and then the demon. Way to weave storylines together!
The Cross Became a Weapon
For the first time in a horror film, the Cross was used as a weapon against demonic evil. Movies such as The Rite and Deliver Us From Evil have used the Cross as a device to thwart evil, but those movies were usually founded on religious practices anyway. This movie, however, is a horror film with only suggested religious undertones from the Warrens’ beliefs. Annabelle Comes Home wasn’t about God versus the Devil until the Cross defended the girls. To see the Cross finally utilized properly made my little Christian heart flutter.
Anytime Mary Ellen or Daniela were afflicted by spirits, they ran. When Judy was facing evil, she reached for her Cross and was delivered from fear. The Cross is a symbol of strength and power to Christians, and when Judy held that Cross up to the bride, admonishing the spirit, and when she pressed the Crucifix to the demon’s forehead, when she kept the spirits at bay in the artifact room, all that gave me a sense of triumph as a Christian.
What Didn’t Work For This Film:
Repeated Activity From Previous Movies:
According to the timeline from The Conjuring, the case of Annabelle being taken from the nurses occurred before the Perron farmhouse haunting case. So to see activity from The Conjuring appear in Annabelle Comes Home made no sense. In fact, it felt like repeated cinema. I hate seeing the same jump scares in different movies.
When Judy is sleeping, her foot gets yanked to the end of the bed. Since the first Conjuring, we’ve established that that sort of paranormal activity is associated with Beth-Sheba, so to reproduce it in this movie was more confusing than scary. Mostly because instead of seeing Beth-Sheba under the sheet, we see Annabelle.
Also, the chords Daniela plays on the piano in the artifact room being played back to her note for note resembled Beth-Sheba activity from The Conjuring.
Having the evil bride do a full 360 walk around Judy copied what the nun did to Lorraine in The Conjuring 2 and in The Nun. The bride passed outside the windows, through mirrors, all while the room experienced an earthquake reaction to her spirit. I understand if the writers meant to do a demonic similarity in copying the experiences from The Conjuring 2, but it wasn’t effective because the bride wasn’t the nun or Annabelle. The cursed wedding dress was a completely separate story.
Sloppy Scare Tactics
The scares in the movie were pieced together at random. While there were backstories to each of the ghosts and Annabelle was essentially the main antagonist, the rest of the activity surrounding the doll was scattered. This is true of actual hauntings. When you’ve got multiple spirits in a location, you’re not going to get a full story from all the activity you experience. You’ll get bits and pieces of each ghost trying to tell their story, so that realism in this film paid off.
However, a lot of the scares in the movie were like all the writers had a good idea of something scary they wanted to happen, and to play fair, they included everyone’s idea in one scene or another. A few of those jump scares that could have been cut were the hands springing out of the board game box to grab Judy’s ankle at the end, Ed almost getting run over by the diesel in the beginning (it seemed too staged), and the suit of armor could have been replaced by a more active villain. All this thing did was turn its head and make Mary Ellen hallucinate a vicious slaying (that we didn’t get to see, by the way). Without knowing the history of that suit of armor, we had very little to imagine as far as fear goes. And compared to
everything else going on in the movie, the armor turning its head proved very low on the scare scale.
The one that ticked me off the most was the camera work when Judy pursues the evil bride upstairs. Lured by the sound of creaking wood, Judy pushes open the door to a bedroom and finds Annabelle in the rocking chair. The door slowly shuts on Judy, and she pushes it open again. Now, we know something’s going to happen when that door opens again, but unfortunately, the camera shifts and we see Judy’s reaction to what happens instead of experiencing it for ourselves. That would have been more effective if we could have seen the chair empty. Then we would have been paralyzed with the question: Where the hell did Annabelle go?
The werewolf in his introductory scene was too CGI to scare me. Compared to the other ghosts who were obviously real people in costumes, the werewolf was obviously fake. When the werewolf was on top of the car, though, that was real. But when we first lay eyes on the werewolf, Van Helsing (2004) and Underworld came to mind.
When we see the ferryman in his domain during the kitchen attack scene, he looks like just a man in a mask to me. Nothing to be afraid of whatsoever. If the disfigurement of the mask looked more like skin instead of a Halloween mask under a cloak and hood, I would have crapped myself. But of all the spirits of demons in the house, he was the second least impressive.
Annabelle being in bed with Judy made me uncomfortable. Instead of doing the scares under the sheets, which were too intimate and personal for my comfort, they could have done a side-by-side scare. Have Judy cuddle with Annabelle, only to realize it’s the sinister doll. But having the monster under the bed sheet with an innocent little girl seemed inappropriate to me from a mother’s perspective.
When the demon popped out beside Judy, it was obvious that it was a scare tactic. His goal was to scare Judy, not kill her which isn’t true of demonic nature.
I’m sure this had something to do with impressionable thirteen-year-old Mckenna Grace, but if you know you’re creating the ultimate villain but will have to do it at the expense of its power, don’t do it. Annabelle has been the most feared doll in cinema for four straight movies now. To finally see the demon itself manifest was a huge deal, and they diluted the demon to a growling monster. I mean, for crying out loud, the bride had more malice than the demon in this movie did. The bride possessed one of the girls and tried to kill the other two, hell she even stabbed one. But the demon? He growled a lot. Do you see the uneven power distribution?
The movie ranked low on my scare scale, but high on my entertained scale. I was entertained watching it, moreso in the theater than at home. Entertained by the false jump scares, but mostly by the haunted house essence of the movie. The girls were trapped inside this rustic house that also happens to be the honin source for evil, and they unleash the demons. All sorts of random paranormal events start to occur, and I feel like I’m in my childhood home again. I thought the nostalgia I felt was related to anemoia (feeling nostalgic for a time you never knew) considering the movie was set in the ’70’s, but reflecting now, I know that I felt nostalgic because I grew up in a house just like that one. I felt like I was watching my entire childhood summed up in 106 minutes.
Compared to the other Annabelle movies, I feel as though this one was the scariest. The first Annabelle had only one scary part I remember: when the elevator got stuck in the basement, and we see the demon for the first time. That was scary, the rest of the movie was hard to digest.
Annabelle Creation bored me. None of what happened was scary to me, and the jump scares were obvious.
In this Annabelle, the bride terrified me, the running footsteps, the whispering of the ghost in the car with Lorraine, the little girl whispering at the front door asking for Annabelle. I loved the subtle details of this movie, but I feel as though a lot of it was repeated. Overall, it was more than I expected for an Annabelle movie, but ranks less than The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. Annabelle Comes Home is still a good film to watch on Halloween to get into the mood.
In case you were wondering, here is the timeline for the Conjuring Universe, according to their IG: