Annabelle Comes Home review Vera Farmiga

Year: 2019
Director(s): Gary Dauberman
Writer(s): James Wan, Gary Dauberman
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Color, 106 mins

Synopsis: While babysitting the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a teenager and her friend unknowingly awaken an evil spirit trapped in a doll. (Source)

Without director James Wan’s deft eye and sincerity, The Conjuring spin-offs have been largely hit or miss. Most of them feel like feeble attempts at wringing out the franchise without real weight or consequence. With Annabelle Comes Home, writer/director Gary Dauberman is aware of what makes Wan’s films so great. They’re steeped in familial relationships and have a real reverence for what lies beyond our mortality. With its characters front and center, this latest installment feels like a real carnival funhouse. Dauberman plays up the atmosphere to great effect, while a revolving door of ghouls grip us both viscerally and emotionally. 

Acting as a loose prequel to The Conjuring, the film begins the night the Warren’s (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) bring Annabelle home. As a conduit, the cursed doll is a powerful tether for spirits looking to lure souls. The Warren’s quickly realize how dangerous she is, putting her behind a glass case within a locked room of haunted artifacts. After the Warren’s are called off to a new case, an ancient evil uses Annabelle as its pawn. It quickly targets the Warren’s daughter Judy (McKenna Grace), her babysitter Mary (Madison Iseman), and a friend named Daniela (Katie Sarife). When Annabelle is freed from her cage, a myriad of spooks to run wild.

The surprise to Dauberman’s effort is that it’s actually a low-key hangout film with ghosts sprinkled in throughout. After the standard setup, the plot takes place at the Warren’s over the course of a single night. Through this, Dauberman’s able to focus on a triptych of likable characters who are interesting enough on their own. Though the characters aren’t balanced out perfectly, they have interesting motivations and stumble onto each sinister machination in a way that keeps things interesting. Admittedly, the pace is a bit slow around the middle, but the film is never boring. Once it really escalates, it goes BIG, weird and unabashedly fun. 

Annabelle Comes Home review McKenna Grace

On the performance front, McKenna Grace anchors the entire thing without a problem. Already a strongpoint in projects like I, Tonya and Hill House, Grace gives more to her character than is actually there. She’s able to grapple with a tormented side plot and give it depth and catharsis. Katie Sarife is another nice surprise, playing a character who could’ve been a stock annoyance, but instead turns into someone truly haunted by her past. Sarife gives the film its weight, especially for a very emotional epilogue. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are basically bookends. The film isn’t about them, but Farmiga adds a nice coda that ends up being a tribute to the late, real life Lorraine Warren.

Annabelle Comes Home is safe but solid. As the eigth(!) film in an ever-expanding universe, this film is better than a lot of past spin-offs because it has a pulse on characters that truly give it life. In terms of the franchise’s “jump-scare” style horror, Dauberman changes things up just enough, toying with expectation and bathing most of the film in moody, colorful theatrics. With its strong sense of style and catharsis, this is an pleasing, worthy entry into the universe.