The Conjuring franchise and its spin-offs have been a success at the box office since 2013. Now with the third Annabelle hitting the big screen, it’s time ask the question: is this the end for the franchise? We already know there is going to be a third Conjuring film coming out next year, but beyond that, I’m guessing the studio heads are watching to see how this film fares with the summer competition. I wasn’t a fan of the first Annabelle. The second one was better but still it seemed to pale in comparison to The Conjuring films, so to be honest, my expectations were not very high for this new installment. As it turns out, this ended up being my favorite of the spin-off movies, and I have no shame admitting how much fun I had with this one.
First off, let me just state that I love The Conjuring films. Personally they are in my top ten for paranormal films. I’m a sucker for the cinematic Warren family, and I’m a fan of their work. Whether you believe in it or not, they make for good stories. I feel this is important to get out there, because while I had a blast with this film, I can’t put it in the same sandbox. Annabelle Comes Home works because it knows what it is: a B-movie carnival ride, and it embraces it. This isn’t a dig by any means; instead it’s a compliment.
Bringing the doll to the Warrens’ home is something that should have happened in the films from the start. I also think we can all agree we’ve wanted more time in their haunted artifacts room from the moment we first got a glimpse of it. But to take it all a step further and play the “what if” card and pose the question, “what would happen if all the cursed objects were to escape?” is a fun notion. I mean, think about that moment in Ghostbusters when the containment facility it shut down and all the ghosts escape into New York. It’s the same thing that basically happens in Annabelle Comes Home, but on a smaller and more intimate scale.
The film opens up with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren receiving the doll and taking it back to their home to have it locked up in their museum. On their way home they have a bit of car trouble that may or may not be paranormal-related, but as the sequence unfolds, Lorraine discover that the doll is a beacon for the dead. We also get to meet their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), who is developing psychic abilities like her mother.
As it turns out, Ed and Lorraine are called away for an investigation, which leaves Judy alone at the house with Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), her babysitter. At school Judy is having a tough time and is losing friends because word is spreading about what her parents do, and the kids are treating Judy like she’s the weird kid at school. Though when Mary Ellen’s best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) finds out she is babysitting the Warren’s daughter for the weekend, she takes the opportunity come to the house and see if it’s as spooky as it’s been made out to be. Really, this is all kind of the standard setup for a horror film, but what makes this actually entertaining is the chemistry between the three girls. So when things inevitably go wrong, we really have a reason to root for these girls.
As for those who are fans of the Warrens and their real-life case files, well, you’re in for an added treat, as we get more than just a glimpse at these haunted items in action. Even the famous rocking chair that was unveiled at the Haunted Museum in Las Vegas just weeks ago makes an appearance here. As for how all the objects are unleashed upon the home and how Annabelle comes into play, well, as horror movies go, this isn’t so farfetched as far as how it begins…as for the rest, well, obviously there are plenty of liberties taken here.
What works best is that the film doesn’t stray from the house once things get rolling, and everything occurs in one night, so there is a sense of urgency that remains and only ramps up as the film progresses. Sure, most of the jump scares are obvious, but I liked the carnival-funhouse vibe this film has where no room is safe, and what’s lurking outside is even more dangerous than what is inside.
The writing this go around is much better than what we’ve seen in the spin-offs. At its core it’s the relationship between the girls that keep this story grounded and helps us sympathize with them. I could have done without the tad-bit-forced romantic aspect between Mary Ellen and a neighbor boy, but thankfully this is a storyline that is kept in the background.
One of the best things going for this film is also its atmosphere. While the caliber of direction isn’t quite on par with James Wan, there are still plenty of stylish atmospheric moments that seem to blend in better with The Conjuring films than what we’ve seen before.
I know some would like to think that this will be the end for the Annabelle franchise, but I wouldn’t be surprised if another film or two managed to conjure its way onto the screens. I feel now that they seem to finally have a grasp on how to use the doll for these films, there is much more potential to be made of this new cinematic icon.