Another early 1970s-based sequel connected to The Conjuring universe isn’t able to summon a very frightful experience, perhaps its aridity arises from a deliberation into chaotic mayhem. Another week at the movies another movie with a malevolent doll that doesn’t move or talk but can do a lot as a “beacon for the spirits.”
First-time director, but scenarist and co-creator of the Annabelle franchise (as well as the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It), Gary Dauberman, returns with a mercantile, and less taut approach to “Annabelle Comes Home” which has a grey-charcoal look and some nifty camerawork from Michael Burgess (The Curse of La Llorona which featured a cameo from a character akin to Annabelle and its sequel subtitled Creation).
Before opening up the afterlife which tends to evoke typical genre tropes the greenback filmmaker looks to have shivery paranormal goodies up his sleeve. First there’s renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, sadly in what amounts to little more than a cameo) having to babysit their prepubescent daughter Judy (McKenna Grace of I, Tonya, Captain Marvel) for the weekend. It turns out that Judy has inherited some of her mom’s second sight aplomb, especially involving a secular man. She also is victimized at school for what her parents do for a living
A resolute Mary-Ellen (Madison Iseman of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)accepts the task to monitor Judy with her honest, industrious qualities. But, she’s unable to keep uninhibited, apt friend Daniela, filled with mischievous if grieving desire by Katie Sarife from heading to the Warrens’ spooky basement which houses artifacts in old cases like the titular figure with ginger pigtails and mordant grin with a key.
A not so vividly recalled Milton-Bradley board game Feeley Meeley is part of the detailed recreation of the era abetted by Jennifer Spence’s authentic, lived-in production design with an ochre gloss. After things come to a boil the narrative begins to quickly lose its grip and way with the introduction of brides and priests, for example. Annabelle Comes Home relies on a plaintiveness from a spiritual sensibility running in this realm though this thread just can’t manage within a stacked deck against veritable tension. In this type of frenetic ghoulish funhouse the mostly female cast is engaging enough with a maturing Grace, and notably Sarife etching out decent characterizations. Even Michael Cimino as obeisant neighbor Bob injects some welcome lightness.
A more sound touch, say of the Warren quality, would have been welcome in certainly what has an edge in chronicling a menace during babysitting, but remains a loose and jagged entry that will likely precede more installments to compel its devoted viewership with macabre imagery.