The Annabelle trilogy inside the “Conjuring” universe has been a little rollercoaster of emotions. The first film came in 2014 and it was a disaster on almost all fronts. Then, David F. Sandberg took the reins in Annabelle: Creation (2017) turning it into a genuinely terrifying sequel with a great story and plenty of scares.
Now, writer/director Gary Dauberman, who wrote the first two films, helms this sequel and has everyone wondering whether it’s going to be more in line with the first Annabelle, or the second. This story takes place prior to the events of The Conjuring (2013) and follows Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace) who, alongside her babysitter and babysitter’s friend, is subjected to a room full of evil when a familiar doll is awoken.
Annabelle Comes Home kicks off with a thrilling opening scene that sets up an appropriately ominous tone that it locks in right through to the end. The tension built in this opening sequence, which heavily features Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga‘s Ed and Lorraine Warren, puts great faith in how effective the rest of the film will be. It’s a genius way to open as it perfectly sets everything up and kicks off what is a great story by Gary Dauberman and James Wan.
The story is one of the strongpoints of this horror sequel, which is not something you often get to say with horror films. There are one or two subplots with a couple of the characters that don’t work but for the most part the story flows very smoothly between scares. It doesn’t feel rushed and takes these characters through a house of terror at a calculated building pace. I do feel like one character is overused as the constant cause of all the chaos, but as for the terror getting worse, it all happens in a naturally building pace. As natural as a demonic possession film can get.
It’s clear Gary Dauberman has his hand on the pulse of the Annabelle story as he’s been one of the most consistently and heavily involved in the creative process since the first. Despite being his first run at directing a feature film he eases right into the role, and through his experience as a writer on so many horror films, he seems to know what makes the genre a success today.
When it comes to modern horror there are few who pull off a steady amount of scares and captivating atmospheric horror better than the likes of Mike Flanagan, David F. Sandberg and James Wan. Gary Dauberman, although it’s still early days, seems to have a grasp on what makes good modern horror and could continue to make a name for himself through future projects. The scares in here are plentiful. Not as frequent as what Sandberg gave in Annabelle: Creation, but enough to where you can’t go a couple of minutes without some sort of scary atmospheric sequence or false-scare.
The horror in here is inventive and tries to be different wherever it can to subvert expectations. This misdirection in the scares works so well in here I’m not sure it has been done better anywhere else in recent years. On so many occasions you think something is coming, then it doesn’t, and it’s glorious. That’s the most effective horror, the background layouts that give you the impression something is about to jump out at you, but don’t, and leave you in that state of horror going into the next scare. It’s genius. The story promises chaos and it’s delivered through the variety of scares that come from the variety of otherworldly presences in the Warren household.
One thing that must be noted is that Annabelle Comes Home is amazingly well acted, specifically when it comes to Mckenna Grace and surprisingly, Madison Iseman. Mckenna Grace is an established star. She is a spectacular young actress so I went into this film expecting nothing short of greatness from her. She delivers a chilling performance as the daughter of the Warrens and sells the horror and terror of what she’s experiencing like a seasoned pro. The biggest surprise is Madison Iseman who I thought was going to be a more generic “babysitter” character who didn’t contribute a whole lot. But no, she was thrilling and my have even outshone Grace in quite a few scenes. One sequence specifically which involves her and a flashlight is absolutely terrifying and it’s all because of her performance in these moments. The two of them form a strong duo who carry most of the entire film.
The third most featured performance is from Katie Sarife who plays a friend of Madison Iseman’s character. Now, where her performance is good, her character is where the film’s main flaws lie. I feel like she’s used as a scapegoat one too many times for the drama that unfolds. She’s given a backstory and arc to help rationalise the decisions she makes but it’s hard when she’s actively turned into a non-likeable character. She’s necessary for the story and fits in well but outstays her welcome for sure. Another supporting character, played by Michael Cimino really could have been entirely omitted. He hardly factors into the story at all and his scenes, although not all bad, don’t need to be in here and it would have been better without them.
Aside from those two character flaws, this is a solid horror film that capitalises on great modern horror techniques, stellar lead performances, a strong story and top-notch scares. With the absence of David F. Sandberg I didn’t think this could top Annabelle: Creation but it may have just done so. There are things Creation does better, but as a whole I may prefer to check this one out instead. The inclusion of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga you can never fault so there’s that too. Time will tell with repeat viewings, but for now, the Annabelle franchise has been more than redeemed after the first blunder.