Annabelle Comes Home, review: this humdrum horror is painting blood by numbers

Tim Robey
Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife and Mckenna Grace have Annabelle the doll for company - © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife and Mckenna Grace have Annabelle the doll for company - © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Dir: Gary Dauberman. Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Iseman, Mckenna Grace, Katie Sarife, Emily Brobst, Samara Lee. 15 cert, 106 min

Not all horror films can be Midsommar or Hereditary, with their wickedly sexualised shocks and rejection of clear battle lines between good and evil. There’s something comparatively prim – borderline prudish – about the universe of The Conjuring, which has certainly been taken to heart by Christian audiences in America. These films are designed as tests of faith, with supernatural forces lining up to be defeated by those who fear God.

Ed and Lorraine Warren are the real-life demonologists and devout exorcists whose moral stomping ground these films occupy, even if the Warrens themselves are mainly wheeled on as supporting players at this stage, with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson guest-starring to lend a certain cachet. The couple have a locked room in their house full of creepy bric-a-brac gleaned from their “psychic research”, with these malevolent relics falling over themselves to star in the next spin-off.

The most cumulatively successful to date has been Annabelle, the rouge-lipped devil doll who receives her third outing in Annabelle Comes Home. If you’ve seen either of the other two, you know the deal by now: Annabelle herself doesn’t specifically do much, but if you unlock the glass cabinet she’s in, things are uncannily likely to go bump in the night.

This is the most contained offshoot so far: it’s almost entirely set at the Warrens’ suburban home, one night in the Seventies when they’ve gone out to a dinner party, leaving their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of a local babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). The latter is a wholesome blonde, popular with the boys, looking much like a pre-makeover Olivia Newton-John in Grease. All is fine, until Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) invites herself over and becomes tempted, thanks to the trauma of having killed her father in a car accident, to test the boundaries of the spirit world in the Warrens’ inner sanctum.

Annabelle, ruinously unleashed and left to her own devices, whips up a posse of spectres to maraud all over the house, including a cursed suit of samurai armour, a baying undead bride, and some kind of hellhound. Faintly impersonal as they all are, this brigade lend the film its ready supply of no-nonsense set-pieces, clanking down hallways or terrorising chicken coops as required. 

Directing capably in his debut, Gary Dauberman is a long-time screenwriter on this franchise, and also co-wrote Warner Bros’ It remake. He hasn’t set himself much of a writing task here, though: perfectly well-made, Annabelle Comes Home is mechanical and unambitious, thereby falling between the quality levels of the fairly dire first film and the taut, surprising second.

With a few tweaks, it could easily have won a 12A rating, rather than a 15, for its barrage of resolutely safe scares. Featuring an unusual trio of young female leads, it’s perhaps destined to be appreciated on teenage Hallowe’en sleepovers with popcorn spilling over the blankets. The horror frissons are snuggly enough that peeking out at them with knowing shivers is the name of the game.

And there’s nothing wrong with that as a goal for basic studio entertainment. Call it junior horror at the shallow end, before the gnarlier depths beckon.

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