Annabelle Comes Home to a menagerie of spine-tingling haunted shenanigans. “A beacon for other spirits” utters Lorraine Warren outside a misty cemetery, staring blankly at the possessed doll. Yeah, no kidding! Just when I thought this so-called cinematic universe was running out of life, Dauberman in his directorial debut injects some unnerving scares and terror into this horror franchise that proves there is genuine talent behind the onslaught of films.
Forget about ‘The Nun’ and ‘The Curse of My Sharona’, it’s the Annabelle series that continues to improve with each instalment (much to my surprise!). Containing the doll’s power in a case within their artefact room, the Warrens leave a babysitter to look after their daughter for the night, leading one of her desperate friends to go snooping around the house.
With low expectations, I predicted nothing more than a forgettable, unnecessary jump scare-fest, existing only to conjure up more money than Warner Bros can deal with. And whilst that’s partially true, I cannot deny the utter enjoyment and enthralment that I experienced when watching this. Putting aside the third act, which I will discuss later, the first hour and ten minutes were exceptional on a technical level. Zero jump scares. Solid acting. Astute direction. Innovative scares. To be honest with you, I was dumbfounded with what I witnessed. Legitimately the scariest mainstream horror so far this year, and I was not prepared for that.
With Annabelle summoning other demons locked away in that same cluttered room, the variety of ghouls, ghosts and strange artefacts enhanced the haunted house vibe that Dauberman desired. I mean after all, the majority of the film is set in the Warrens’ abode.
Ranging from a ghastly ferryman that scared the living daylights out of me (mostly due to the excellent use of lighting), a violent bride and cursed samurai armour, to a haunted board game and a frolicking werewolf. Aside from the latter, which was completely out of place and diminished the well constructed tension on multiple occasions, these demons were well embedded in the narrative. Furthering the backstory of the Warrens and their extensive list of demonology cases.
Dauberman nearly crossed a venomous line that made this chapter almost poisonous. The intent focus on these other objects and cases, instead of the eponymous doll, alluded to many potential spin-offs for this cinematic universe. Fortunately, Dauberman actually utilised these demons, for if he didn’t this would’ve been an immediate write-off. So in that sense, he was playing very close to death (I could sense the Ferryman was ready to take his soul…).
As I stated, the first two acts were technically impressive. A variety of techniques bursting with formidable flavour, from elongated one take corridor sequences to sleight of hand tricks with the camera. Yet it’s the lack of jump scares, an easy method to succumb to, that felt refreshing.
Most of the chills exhume from ghostly apparitions gently moving in the background or Dauberman’s slow panning of the camera. Oh, and finally some use of the studio’s fog machine. Unfortunately, as with many horror films, the loss of momentum in the third act was noticeable and was wrapped up far too expeditiously. The splintering of the characters made for a disjointed final narrative sequence, although not a huge detriment, and the moment of reflection was neatly wrapped up with a hug and some cake.
Speaking of characters, aside from the babysitter’s friend aimlessly snooping around the Warrens’ for the set of keys that unlocks the artefact room (not very well hidden Ed, come on!), most of the choices made were fairly intuitive.
There was purpose to infiltrating that cursed room, which assisted in building an emotional connection with these three characters. Some subtle humour breaks away from the heightened suspense, allowing us to breathe a sigh of relief for just one moment. Performances were all very good. Grace is the gift that keeps on giving, Iseman and Sarife were strong throughout and naturally the inclusion of Farmiga and Wilson, although not necessary, were instantly welcomed additions to the cast.
Suffice to say, I had a blast with this chapter. Inventive, accessible and downright scary. Minus the sloppy third act, these factors push Annabelle’s third outing as one of the best in this so-called “Conjuring Universe”. Perhaps horror is not totally wasted this year…