Sunday 30 June 2019

Film Review: Annabelle Comes Home

The third Conjuring film to focus on possessed doll Annabelle, director Gary Dauberman's Annabelle Comes Home proves to be a surprisingly effective haunted house ride.

Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (a returning Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are heading out of town for the night, and feel their teenage daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) is still a little young to be looking after herself. Judy has been having a tough time at school, but has found a friend in older student and babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).

Mary Ellen, with friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) in tow, agrees to babysit Judy for the night, safe in the knowledge that the room with dozens of creepy artefacts the Warrens have in their basement stays locked at all times. However Daniela, who is harbouring some secret inner demons of her own, finds her way into the room and dooms the trio to a sleepless night of spookiness when she opens the glass case keeping demonic doll Annabelle at bay.

Annabelle Comes Home unleashes all manner of nasty demons and ghastly ghouls, with Annabelle's escape from her glass case paving the way for everything else to follow in her footsteps and wreck havoc on the house upstairs. From an eerie boatman and a gnarly hellhound to a shrieking samurai and a haunted cathode television, Annabelle Comes Home is essentially the Conjuring universe's version of Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.

While the film starts out fairly slow, when all hell breaks loose, Dauberman doesn't hold back and gleefully starts throwing all soon of spooky things around the screen. The plot is thin on the ground, so we basically get scene after scene of the three main characters, who find themselves split up and in a different part of the house, creeping through the darkness with a flashlight before something mysterious starts to stalk them.

The silence is soon punctuated by gentle bass, which builds and builds until a crash or a jolt of noise as whatever it was lurches from the shadows. Then we cut to the next one, over and over again. The plot driving the film runs out of steam after about an hour, which means we're left with a fairly standard haunted house film where a dozen or so ghosts wait around every corner, lying in wait.

What keeps this interesting are the three ladies thrust front and centre; Grace, Iseman and Sarife are great horror heroines and the dynamic between their three characters is what keeps things thrilling rather than tiresome. Like all horror movies, the characters make some seriously suss decisions – but most of the time you can put this down to "being kids".

Plus, it's nice to have Farmiga and Wilson back, albeit briefly. Their characters are the soul of this series and the two actors share a palpable rapport that the other films are otherwise missing. Annabelle Comes Home benefits purely from their presence.

The Verdict: 6/10

Much better than the third film about a mute doll has any right to be, Annabelle Comes Home hews closer to Wan's original duology and Sandberg's scary prequel than the other, more forgettable spin-offs. A no-frills frightener that starts slow and loses steam towards the end, but remains effective and fun all the same.

Annabelle Comes Home is in cinemas across Australia now.

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