It is hard to imagine a situation where evil could encroach upon the safety of our homes. Safety comes with locked doors and closed blinds. After all, we tend to cloister ourselves away from the horrors of the world. We close off the rest of the world with the hope that whatever remains outside our homes, stays outside our homes. A stranger of the night might be staring at our windows from the nearest streetlight. But we shut our blinds to that fantastical possibility.
Annabelle Comes Home takes a different approach with evil. In 1971, the famous demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, willingly brought evil into their home. Now this is a bit different. The Warren’s home is not protecting their family from the outside world, their home is protecting the outside world from Annabelle, a grotesque doll with bulging eyes and a sickly grin. However, this is not just a doll. We already know what it is capable of with the other two Annabelle spin-offs. This doll is capable of tearing entire families apart with fear and murder. And it is just one floor underneath the Warren’s living space. All of this should amount to a horror film that hits too close to home. But unfortunately, Annabelle lacks the danger and wickedness that made the Conjuring series a household name.
This new installment of the Conjuring universe hands the spotlight over to the Warren’s daughter, Judy. Despite all of my grievances, I want to take a moment to celebrate Mckenna Grace for her sensitivity as Judy. Not only does she have to balance the natural difficulties of being a 10-year-old girl, but she also has to confront the notoriety of her ‘kooky’ parents. To top it all off, she just so happens to share the same psychic ability as her mother. And like with any other coming-of-age story, each of these difficulties sets her further and further apart from the norm. We feel her isolation and the frustration that comes with wanting to confide in somebody the unexplainable.
The most frightening aspect of this film hardly concerns Annabelle at all. Instead, I found horror in Judy’s loneliness. She has to cope with disturbing spirits that only she can see. And it is not like she can ignore these spirits either. She is trapped inside her own head and there is nothing that she can say or do that will make another person understand. But Judy tries, and her resilience gives this film a beautiful glint of poignancy. Watching Judy get dismissed by her classmates after she handed out invitations to her birthday party was absolutely heart-breaking. For Judy, it is not just a birthday party. It means so much more to her and the circumstances of her life. She may not have an ordinary life, but she is a 10-year-old girl that yearns for friends just like anyone else.
Lucky for Judy, she is not completely alone, as she does have a sympathetic babysitter, Mary Ellen, that is willing to listen to her. Unfortunately, Annabelle Comes Home loses me at its most crucial moments as a horror film when Mary Ellen and her best friend, Daniela, look after Judy for the night. It is a shame, really. I have always looked forward to learning about the various mythologies of the Warren’s artifacts, but very rarely does this film ever consider their histories. Yes, there are a few new creepy faces added to the bunch, but that is all they really are. Creepy faces that serve one or two scares before disappearing altogether. Only one ghoul gets a proper introduction to the story. However, I am a little cynical that this introduction serves only one purpose: a spin-off.
The horror genre cannot effectively exist by itself. What I mean to say is that horror is supplementary. There needs to be an engaging drama or tragedy underlying horror for me to care about the characters. Annabelle Comes Home does an excellent job at the beginning. But it does not take long for the spectacle of horror to take precedent over the entire story, characters included. The script does not develop Mary Ellen beyond her love interest at school. Daniela gets better treatment, but it is not enough in a franchise this big for her character to be defined by one sentimental theme.
At times, it seems as if the filmmakers are more concerned with crafting the next biggest jump-scare than considering the consequences inflicted by those scares. We have already seen these scares before, they do not bring anything new to the genre. Let me remind you that horror movies are not scary because of jump-scares alone. Good horror movies share the same qualities that can be found in any other genre. To put it simply, horror runs on the blood of good characters. Well, at least we get a third of what this film could have been.
Despite my reservations, Annabelle Comes Home is worth the viewing alone for its intimate look into Judy Warren’s life. While the movie does naively prioritize horror in the last half, I do think that we should recognize Mckenna Grace for giving the Conjuring franchise its humanity back in the first half. The Warrens would not consider their lives mere spectacles, so why should we? We should expect more from our horror movies, especially when they concern the lives of real people in real situations.
Annabelle Comes Home is now playing in theaters.
The film stars Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, and Katie Sarife.