Five years ago, I saw the first Annabelle movie and wrote a review on it. That review still exists, in fact, on a now-defunct WordPress blog that I tried to kickstart when I was nineteen years old. My blog since fell to the wayside when I realised only two people were reading my reviews, and I had yet to learn how to properly market myself like a product on social media. You can read that review if you want – I refuse to look at it, as it’s an artefact of a bygone era and a reminder of the truly untamed critiquing style of my younger self, before I became the wise-beyond-my-years, very online twenty-four-year-old I am now. Sculpted out of supple clay and bad tweets, fuelled to write about films out of both horniness AND revenge.
I bring up my old Annabelle review not to further shill my work (I mean, in this case, there’s really no work to shill – it’s truly in the opposite of my best interests to reveal that old blog), but to actually make a point. I can still very tangibly perceive what I felt after watching that first Annabelle movie all those years ago. It’s a feeling imbued within the words of my old review, and it was mirrored as I stepped out of my screening for Annabelle Comes Home just the other day. Not a feeling of overwhelming anger or annoyance, but of exhaustion, fatigue; even a little sprinkling of despair. The feeling of needing to see just one, just a single good movie at all to cleanse my palette. Movies like Annabelle make you desperate to remember that sometimes, cinema is actually a positive thing. Not all films are trapped in the endless chasm of The Conjuring universe. “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Annabelle Comes Home brings us back to the characters of The Conjuring universe that we know and love. It all begins with a scene that has repeated itself in other Conjuring films at least three times already; Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) confiscating the cursed Annabelle doll from a small group of nursing students, one of whom received it as a gift from her mother as some sort of perverted joke. The doll is understood to be not only a conduit for a powerful demon, but it is later discovered that it is a beacon for other spirits to cling to. Annabelle is placed in a chair between panes of glass from a church window in the Warrens’ basement room of other highly cursed artefacts, and is blessed by a priest. A sign on the front of the glass reads “Warning: Positively do not open.” So, one can assume you positively do not open it.
A few years pass, and the Warrens are found entrusting responsible teenager Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to watch their daughter Judy (McKenna Grace, A.K.A. little Kiernan Shipka) while they leave to investigate a case overnight. Judy is a loner and isolated at school, as the other children bully her, fear her, or aren’t allowed to hang out with her due to their own parents’ unease over Judy’s proximity to death. Though the girls have planned a fun evening and pre-birthday celebration for sad little Judy, Mary Ellen’s suspicious, squinty friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) inserts herself into the conversation, out of what is revealed to be a selfish desire to utilise the alleged supernatural power in the Warrens’ artefact room to contact her recently-deceased father. If you thought you had dumb bitch energy, just wait ‘till you meet Daniela.
Dumb Daniela gets herself into the artefact room while Mary Ellen and Judy are playing outside, as Daniela is supposed to be monitoring Judy’s baking birthday cake. She calls out for the spirit of her father, touching every cursed object in the room in the process and falling for Annabelle’s fiendish trick in response to Daniela’s plea. So, thinking that Annabelle falling forward in her chair is a sign of her father’s presence, Daniela releases Annabelle from her glass prison briefly, before she realises that Mary Ellen and Judy have returned from their roller-skating escapade. Daniela places Annabelle safely back inside her case, but, of course, forgets to lock the case after doing so. Who could have expected her to remember?
Annabelle Comes Home is a sequel to the two aforementioned Annabelle movies, but takes place after the events of the first Conjuring movie and before the events of the second. And after the events of The Nun, and before The Curse of La Llorona, and still yet unknown where it will fall in terms of the upcoming Crooked Man movie. It’s a tangled web woven by a film franchise that should have never become a franchise in the first place. But during a time when Marvel films have made making bank out of a connected cinematic universe look so easy, if a financially successful horror film has a handful of creepy characters utilised for mere minutes at a time, surely it is reason to craft entire feature-length scripts out of them. Complaining about this, however, is a futile effort and is nothing that any of you reading this haven’t already read a hundred times over. It will change nothing about The Conjuring Cash Cow. Thus, I digress.
Annabelle Comes Home is unremarkable and un-terrifying. It is hard to properly write a review of it, as it feels like nothing really happened in the entire hour and forty-six-minute run time other than over half my cherry Icee melted before the film ended because it made me too cold to keep drinking it. As Daniela has touched every cursed object in the Warrens’ artefact room, the objects begin to manifest themselves in sinister ways throughout the house, assumedly emboldened by Annabelle’s immense power. It’s a fun idea that might have worked, if only the film knew how to execute any amount of true terror or properly manifest enjoyment in an audience. There are a handful of jump scares that are scream-inducing in the moment, but will have evacuated that small space in your mind long before you’ve left the cinema. Scenes drag on as they attempt to lead up to these middling jump scares and stretch the film out to the longest hour-forty-six you’ve ever sat through. The R-rating will make you question if any character said “fuck” even once throughout the film, as surely the meagre amount of blood spilled wouldn’t qualify? (Genuinely – why is this movie Rated R?)
While the film does a decent enough job at making you care about the characters before they fall down the rabbit hole of spooks and frights, they make such decidedly dumb-ass decisions it’s hard to want to stick by them as they choose one wrong path after the other. Thirteen-year-old McKenna Grace acts circles around the two young actresses who play Mary Ellen and Daniela with ease, but attempts to thoughtfully comment on Judy’s own supernatural proclivities and how she processes being around so much death are overshadowed by the hokey, haunted house mess that surrounds it. Ed and Lorraine Warren, the best parts of any of these movies no matter how small, only have maybe a combined fifteen minutes of screen time – if that. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are booked and busy.
I do my best to remain supportive and positive about films even in my most negative reviews, but it’s hard to feel willed to do that for a franchise instalment that exists only to drain our bank accounts. Films like these have enough money lining their bottomless pockets from past successes to fail both critically and financially – and even if they don’t, even if that’s not how the film industry works since I don’t know anything about film industry economics, I’m not gonna sit here and feel bad about it. The first Conjuring film felt like a real movie, even The Conjuring 2 was more than decent, but everything dumped out like a bowel movement since then has been too evidently out of nothing but corporate greed. You can say the same thing about Marvel or Star Wars, but at least they (tend) to make great, if not good, films to shut me up about it. Every now and then a Doctor Strange or a Captain Marvel creeps in to reveal my deep-seated cynicism, but even those have more going for them than The Curse of La Llorona. At least Marvel films try to be good. Conjuring films barely try to be scary.
Annabelle has come home, yes, but I would prefer that her, and any more Conjuring movies, kept far, far away.
By Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favourite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs