If you take one step forward and one step back, then two steps forward and two steps back, do you know where you end up? Right back where you started, exerting energy that is all for naught, like you would have been better off doing nothing, or questioning what you could have done to stop the backtracking from occurring in the first place. Annabelle Comes Home, the seventh film in the Conjuring Cinematic Universe, had the opportunity to get the franchise back on track after the disappointments of The Nun and The Curse of La Llarona and how effective Annabelle Creation was. Or it could have taken another step back, further miring this once inspired franchise into mediocrity. But somehow, someway, it chose the third option: status quo. It is safe, inoffensive, and ultimately goes nowhere.
The film brings back Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, as well as new addition McKenna Grace (Gifted) as the Warren’s daughter Judy. After the Warren’s come into possession of, and lock away, the cursed Annabelle doll in their room of spooky wonders with signs outside the door saying do not enter with at least four locks on it, they go away for the weekend leaving Judy in the care of babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife, Youth & Consequences). Daniela has ulterior motives knowing who the Warren’s are, and she wants to get on contact with her dead father through whatever means necessary. Which includes all the stupid tropes that make horror films both fun and frustrating: going in the room clearly marked do not enter, touching all the things in said room, and finally, since she didn’t feel the need to follow the signs on the first door, opening the case holding Annabelle even though it says in big ol’ letters warning- positively do not open.
If you have seen any of the Conjuring films, you know what to expect because it follows the tried and true formula beat by beat. The room goes silent, a character looks around, nothings there. The character looks around again and BOO! Jump Scare City: population- you. The problem there is that isn’t a story. There is no plot much more than “survive the night and try to put Annabelle back in her case, and by the way, avoid all the other spooky ghost spirits you let out because you couldn’t follow the rules!” Speaking of other spooky ghost spirits, boy howdy do they pull out all the stops. There are enough ancillary characters that are brought up in this film to fill at least a half dozen original spinoffs to the CCU.
I feel like I’m ragging on this film too much, so here are some positives. McKenna Grace is great as Judy and is easily the best part of the movie. She does an amazing job with conveying different emotions. Iseman and Sarife are both really good as well, and it’s great to see Wilson and Farmiga back in this franchise. The cinematography and the costume designs of all the spirits look varying degrees of good to great, except for one character at the end that is bad CGI to the nth degree. The direction and screenplay are ultimately where this movie falls down and seeing as this was both written and directed by the same guy who wrote the first Annabelle and The Nun, arguably the two worst films of the franchise, it shows. Without going into details (as it may be spoilers), there is one line delivered at the end of the film that is so cringeworthy, I was expecting 8-bit shades to fall over this character’s eyes and explosions to go off in the background while the theme to CSI: Miami played them off into daybreak. If you are into the CCU formula and are just there for a haunted house cinematic experience, this is the movie for you. If you’re looking for a well-written plot driven horror movie that will really make you think about what you just watched right after you leave the theater and weeks after you initially watch it, this isn’t that movie. My final grade for Annabelle Comes Home is a C-.