Here’s the thing about the new Annabelle movie: it’s the same old stuff. The kind of horror movie straight out from James Wan’s Conjuring playbook that by now, it becomes more like an assembly line than a worthy inspiration of sorts. The checklist is basically all there including the likes of frightened kids and/or teenagers, haunted house-like vibe and of course, your usual garden variety of jump scares.
In Annabelle Comes Home, the third instalment follows the Warrens (Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine and Patrick Wilson’s Ed) safely guarded the possessed Annabelle doll in the locked artifacts room in their home with the help of a priest’s holy blessing.
Of course, it doesn’t take long before something has to happen (otherwise, it won’t be a horror movie, to begin with)… when Daniela Rios (Katie Sarife) sneaks around the Warrens’ house while her babysitter friend Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and Warrens’ 10-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) are playing outside. Long story short, Daniela ends up unwittingly awakens the evil spirit within the Annabelle doll and so do the rest inside the artifacts room.
Annabelle Comes Home marks the directorial debut for Gary Dauberman, the screenwriter who is responsible most of the Conjuring spin-offs including Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017) and The Nun (2018). He seems to have learned a thing or two from James Wan, filling in the third Annabelle movie with all the familiar camera placements, sound effects, darkness and long silences. In fact, it did work up until a point during the opening scene when the Warrens transport the Annabelle doll back home.
It’s just too bad the rest of the movie feels more like a hit-and-miss affair. The overreliance of jump scares every now and then becomes increasingly generic as the movie progresses further. Among the biggest problems here have to do with the way Dauberman telegraphed all the potentially scary moments and other times, he often likes to pull back when he supposed to go all out. Not even the concept of Goosebumps-like vibe where all the ghosts and demons are summoned manage to evoke a genuine sense of fright.
Then, there’s the paper-thin screenplay which is seriously lacking both dramatic and emotional weight. It was as if Dauberman outlined a story on the fly and piece them all together by recycling all the formula previously seen in The Conjuring movies as well as its spin-offs. Which is why the movie feels annoyingly repetitive, making the otherwise the compact 106-minute a chore to sit through. The climactic finale fares even worse, as Dauberman chose to somewhat withhold the scare factor that I won’t be surprised if some of you end up thinking “What? That’s it?“. Not to mention what’s with the awkwardly misplaced coda of a happy ending?
While Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson did make quite an impression even they appeared in small roles, the rest of them are mostly wasted in throwaway roles. With the exception of Michael Cimino, who provides a welcome comic relief to his timid role as Warrens’ next-door neighbour and Mary Ellen’s love interest, Bob.
I hate to say this but it serves a painful lesson that sometimes it’s best not to cling on the same old formula way too long. If there’s ever a fourth movie, here’s hoping any filmmaker who takes over the project able to come up with something that isn’t awfully clichéd.