Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

*. Yet another entry (the seventh I believe) in the Conjuring Universe. Or the third Annabelle movie (in only 5 years). Which leads to the question of just how many times you can go to the same well.
*. That’s a question I’ve asked before. In fact, here’s how I ended my notes on Annabelle: Creation: “I’m beginning to wonder how much longer they can keep going back to the same haunted well.” I’m repeating myself about how much these films are repeating themselves.
*. For what it’s worth, the set-up here the has husband-and-wife paranormal investigation team of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) leaving their daughter at home with a babysitter while they go off to some psychic convention. The babysitter’s friend comes by and lets the evil doll Annabelle out of her glass case (holy glass, made out of church windows). The usual scares ensue.
*. And when I say “the usual scares” I really mean it. By this time you must know the drill. Creepy figures glide by behind characters. Doors slowly creak open or slam shut. Phones and doorbells ring but there’s nobody there. A radio turns on. A rocking chair starts rocking with no one in it. A piano plays by itself. The power goes out and the girls have to use flashlights. Then the batteries in the flashlight die and they have to use a lamp. Then the lamp goes out and it’s dark. The house fills with a spooky mist. A girl gets dragged backward across the floor. Ghosts jump out at us and go “Boo!”
*. In the first act we are introduced to a bunch of elements that we can be sure are going to come up again later. There’s a bracelet charm, a party game, a collection of spirit bells. Instead of an evil nun there’s a psycho bride. Or maybe it’s La Llorona. I guess since that movie had just come out a few months earlier she could still be a presence. Whatever the case, it’s the same demonic shit, different costume. Plus there’s a samurai warrior, a bunch of corpses with coins on their eyes, and a werewolf.
*. Yes, I said werewolf. Or hellhound. I thought it a stretch but I can imagine the producers feeling that they had to add something a little different to the mix. I felt sorry for him (the werewolf) though. In the end he only gets to raid the chickenhouse. I doubt he’ll be getting his own spin-off franchise.
*. Of course at the center of all this is Annabelle herself, who is really starting to bore me. She doesn’t speak, or (at least that we can see) move on her own. In the pantheon of evil dolls, she’s no Chucky. In fact she’s not much of anything. How have there been three Annabelle movies already?
*. As an aside, the meaning of the title escapes me. In what sense is Annabelle coming home? Is the case in the basement her home? Where else does she go?
*. The formula has continued to be profitable, and it’s one that has even spread out beyond the Conjuring Universe. Writer-director Gary Dauberman, who had credits for writing the other Annabelle movies as well as The Nun, also helped out on the screenplay for both chapters of It. Busy guy, unless he has software now for jobs like this. I noticed the resemblance here to It Chapter Two in the group splitting up and facing different demons, the jump scares deriving, literally, from ghosts jumping out at the screen, and even the borrowing of the asthma inhaler as a plot device. It’s almost like watching a crossover. Annabelle and Pennywise should hook up sometime.
*. As David Fear wrote in his Rolling Stone review: “Annabelle Comes Home is not out to reinvent the wheel, or to even rotate the franchise tires.” That’s well put, but I don’t know where Fear is coming from when he goes on to call it “an oddly back-to-basics take on the ghost-story gauntlet run.” Oddly? All of the movies in the Conjuring Universe have taken the identical “back-to-basics” approach. In terms of the horror grammar of these movies they’re indistinguishable.
*. Does it work? As well as the other movies. I didn’t like it as much as Annabelle: Creation, but I thought it was better than The Nun. Mckenna Grace is really good as Judy Warren. Tight-sweatered teens Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife look convincingly scared. It’s a decent enough ride through the same funhouse. That said, a movie like this is built around jump scares. In fact, jump scares are its whole reason for being. But here they’re so clearly telegraphed the only pleasant thrills come when you’re led to think something is going to happen and then nothing does.
*. I doubt this will be the end of the franchise, or Universe, but that final point drives home the level of creative exhaustion that is setting in. When nothing is better than something on screen, you know there’s not much left in the tank.

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