Review: Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

I committed myself to writing two reviews a week at the beginning of this year, really not that long ago; yet even in these early months, certain movies come along that reduce this to a repetitive task, works so simplistic in their presentation and goals that there really isn’t much to say. Annabelle Comes Home is my seventh horror review over the last three months, and it adds almost nothing to the conversation. It’s certainly not the worst of the bunch, and that might be the problem – it’s as mundane as horror comes.

The Annabelle series highlights a certain surface level horror that mainstream Hollywood films rely on, largely at the expense of building more lingering fears. The Annabelle doll has been a laughable concept since its appearance in the first Conjuring. It looks scary, yes – but that’s the problem. Absolutely no one looks at that monstrosity and believes an actual child would treat it as a plaything. The ‘real’ Annabelle is a mass-produced Raggedy Ann, which suggests a comparatively terrifying idea that evil will attach itself to anything that happens to be there. But, no, these movies have to let us know in every way to keep away from Annabelle.

It’s difficult to resist comparing this to The Curse of La Llorona, another Conjuring adjunct released only two months ago. La Llorona was an exercise in poor horror movie choices, tossing character development aside and consisting of ceaseless jump scares. Where it was a terrible slog to sit through, it at least makes me realize where Annabelle Comes Home actually worked.

The characters here aren’t particularly compelling, but they’re full enough to have meaningful arcs. Judy Warren is grappling with her own unrelated visions before the horrors begin, while Daniela’s triggering of these curses comes not from the usual horror movie idiocy but a desperate attempt to contact the spirit of her father. Babysitter Mary Ellen serves well enough as the audience surrogate, the disbeliever dragged into chaos.

The horror at the heart of Annabelle Comes Home feels random, as if writer/director Gary Dauberman simply grabbed a few pieces of Warren lore that caught his eye. The film’s excuse is that Annabelle is merely a beacon for these other spirits, suggesting anything could happen. It goes too far to really feel rooted in Annabelle herself, but also not far enough to feel like a full-force tour; Dauberman is happy to cycle through the same handful of threats throughout.

As such, it all feels rather aimless. The movie feels too safe, as I don’t remember any moment where I was truly worried for the characters. It’s less of a haunted house than a fun house, an obstacle course for our protagonists to navigate.

Despite the overall simplicity of this work, its atmospheric structure is sound enough to create some moments of tension. Dauberman is at least considerate enough to build up a scene and not immediately end it with a jump scare every time, unlike the team behind La Llorona. Unfortunately, the payoff is always the same; something startling happens, but nothing carries enough weight to linger.

Ultimately, Annabelle Comes Home is a fun enough pop horror movie that will be forgotten about as soon as it’s over; this isn’t exactly high praise, but it’s a welcome change of pace when so many of these horror movies have been either bland or simply gross. With Annabelle, you’re at least getting what you’d want from it.

2.5 Stars Out of 5

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