The Conjuring series turns mundane objects like old toys, a wedding dress, and a typewriter into nightmare fuel. The most terrifying invention from the franchise is Annabelle, the decrepit doll used as a conduit for an evil spirit which has haunted young women for decades before it found itself in the possession of Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson). In Annabelle Comes Home, the Warrens leave on assignment, and their teenage daughter stays behind with a babysitter, a dozen cursed objects, and one grieving friend eager to talk to someone on the other side.
The Conjuring series played in several pools of sub-genres. Annabelle Creation mixed boarding school drama with a haunted house theme. The original Conjuring trilogy worked as a paranormal investigation meets family drama. A religious possession film, The Nun became the first of the series to take place outside the United States, broadening the global possibilities of the stories being told. Annabelle Comes Home mixes aspects of the babysitter slasher genre with a haunted house theme to interesting effects.
All of these films are linked by a singular space, the artifact room. The basement exists under more than lock and key. Blessed twice a week by a priest, the culmination of the Warren’s adventures includes a dress that makes women want to murder, a set of samurai armor that audibly relives the horrifying murders committed while being worn, and a television that shows the watcher what will happen to the viewer in the next fifteen seconds. Centering Annabelle Creation around the objects in this room established instant familiarity with long time fans and establishes a ton of potential spin-offs for the future. These haunted objects cannot be destroyed because doing so would release the evil contained within them back into the world. Annabelle, could only be contained with glass windows from a dismantled church. So, leaving a ten-year-old girl with a high schooler alone in the house could only lead to scares of a lifetime.
Mckenna Grace plays Judy Warren. Judy, like her mother, can see the dead. A priest immortalized in stone at her middle school follows Judy between classes. Grace brings a repressed aching to Judy who begins to be bullied at school after the students discover what her parents do for a living. Her sitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) behaves in the classic innocent blonde lead. Her counterpart, her best friend Daniela Rios (Katie Sarife), would be the brunette, devil may care, over sexualized woman guaranteed to die early in any other film.
But Annabelle Comes Home does it’s best to move around the tropes women are typically boxed into in slasher films. Daniela plays more reckless than promiscuous. Having recently lost her father, she blames herself for the accident that took his life. The artifact room provides Daniela with the chance to speak to her dad. The film never punishes her for her curiosity beyond the consequences anyone else in the house suffers. Mary Ellen is allowed to be both innocent and a fierce defender. She faces every freaky monster head on. Though a love interest lives around the corner, he doesn’t exist to protect the girls. In fact, he’s terrified and barely manages to keep himself safe.
Werewolves that appear out of the fog, a former friend has turned into a knife-wielding love obsessed fiend, and the fairy-man has come from beyond the grave to collect his tole. These are just three of the new potential franchise spin-offs. By far the fairy man seems the most fleshed out (pardon the pun) of the line-up. He also had the best scares. The silver coins as eyes, gaslight feel of his scenes lay the groundwork for a creepy visual signature. The London fog werewolf also holds promise as an interesting expansion of The Conjuring Universe. Though both The Nun and The Thin Man weren’t critical successes, their failures do not mark the rest of these properties as dead on arrival. There’s still something exciting about seeing a new monster on the big screen. Classic picture monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula have solid expectations when appearing on the silver screen. But who knows what the fairy man might deliver?
First time director Gary Dauberman, who also wrote not only this movie but also The Nun, shows a lot of promise. The haunted television proved an interesting style of horror, usually reserved for mirrors. Both a reflection and a prediction, the TV scenes are genuinely horrifying and unique. If anything, Annabelle Comes Home proves the conjuring franchise still has plenty of stories to tell.
Annabelle Comes Home hits theaters on June 26.