“ANNABELLE COMES HOMES” is in theaters this weekend. It’s the third film in the “Annabelle” trilogy and the seventh film in The Conjuring Universe. This is the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman who also wrote the first two Annabelle movies. He co-writes this one as well alongside James Wan. It stars McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, and Katie Sarife, with Vera Farmiga, and Patrick Wilson rounding out the cast. The story is set primarily inside of the Warren’s home when the evil spirit of Annabelle is conjured by the friend of a babysitter that is watching the Warren’s daughter for the night, and from there horror filled mayhem ensues.
The first “Annabelle” was honestly a miss for me. I did enjoy the prequel follow up and the practical-effects that it delivered, despite having a story that ran a little on the long side. I have enjoyed the overlapping tone of this series though, so for that aspect I was interested in what this third entry would deliver. Even if I wouldn’t necessarily class my expectations as being high. I went in with an open mind, and I have to say this was an entertaining movie. It was able to create more backdrop for this doll and the mysterious powers it possessed. It was certainly going through the genre motions but still was able to plug in more pieces of the overall puzzle by exploring the history further which I ended up enjoying more than expected.
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The Warren’s themselves played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are not in this one as much as I was hoping for but I do think their presence overall was a constant throughout the film. As the story develops and dives deep inside their sinister room of haunted memorabilia, we are able to learn more about their career history and some of their other notable cases. I think it gave the underlying beats of the main narrative a fresh vibe. The story at times was a continued exploration of Annabelle, but also showed a subtle focus on the Warren’s previous experience, all the while the main plot of the script continually progressed. And I thought all of these elements complemented one another nicely to keep the pace moving and the intrigue up so that the traditional horror moments would land with more impact.
Gary Dauberman’s direction was very capable in his first outing. The James Wan inspiration was evident, but to me it wasn’t a hindrance and I felt the carryover of the visual tone actually helped with maintaining the continuity of the overall universe of films. There was a nice use of shadowing and lighting that were able to create foreboding tension and plenty of creepy imagery which was a major bonus. There wasn’t a reliance on jump-scares as much as there was an emphasis on combining various elements together with clever editing to build fright and uneasiness. The camera moves about the home with a smooth flow much like Wan has been known to do. It effectively brings an ominous life to the backdrops that are perfectly suited for a horror movie like this where you always feel something is watching you or lurking in the shadows.
The cast performances were all more than serviceable. Grace, Iseman, and Sarife all did a solid job of carrying this film from a human aspect. In particular young McKenna Grace who not only brought in a capable performance on its own. But she was also able to capture a presence and personality that very much made her feel like a member of the Warren’s. It was subtle, and not thrown in our faces during the film but there was a strength to the character that was very much similar to what Farmiga has delivered as her mother in past performances. This in my opinion was how the film was able to maintain that strong aura of the Warren mindset, while Farmiga and Wilson were off-screen. Iseman and Sarife were both great in their roles and they certainly elevate routine character types by injecting them with sincere emotional swings and old fashion effort.
The pace is consistent and the misdirection in the delivery at times makes up for some of the familiar tropes this one does maneuver through. It isn’t extremely unpredictable but at times the scares are, and it all works. The film held on to my attention by maintaining curiosity, and delivering engaging horror moments. There was a clear feeling that the film wasn’t simply going through the motions, but was actually trying to continue an overarching story-line with some detail and it resulted in more than enough creative ambition to grab onto as the viewer. It was a good time overall, and if you liked the trailers and have enjoyed this creepy doll on the big-screen, then I recommend checking it out. It isn’t perfect, and doesn’t break the formula, but the energy from it is certainly appealing enough.