By Liam Lacey
Apparently intended as a gateway movie for future horror movie fans, Annabelle Comes Home is a sex-and-death-free haunted-house tale about adventures in demonic baby-sitting.
The story of a malevolent pop-eyed Victorian doll who scares adolescent girls is the latest in the lucrative, just-competent-enough The Conjuring series. Under the guidance of producers James Wan and Peter Safran, the series is loosely based on the writings of the late Christian paranormal investigator Ed Warren (also the inspiration behind the seventeen Amityville Horror films).
Screenwriter and first-time director Gary Dauberman’s Annabelle Comes Home has an air-quotes relationship to Amityville’s religious horror theme. Under the cover of innocuous summer fun, this is an assembly line of jump scares, featuring a rambling antique house set, some pretty adolescents and a vaguely anti-bullying message.
An introductory background segment features a fraught road trip by Warrens’ (with cameos by over-qualified actors, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they bring the child-sized doll, Annabelle, a “beacon to other demons” (demons have beacons?) to join their home collection of evil artifacts.
After the Warrens get a priest to do an evil-dispelling incantation, they install Annabelle in a glass case with a sign saying, “Warning: Positively Do Not Open”, which is not necessarily the most effective deterrent to curious teen-agers.
Unexpectedly at ease with leaving the forces of Hell behind an easily-opened door, the Warrens head off for an overnight trip. They leave their house with a baby-sitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman, doing a good Marcia Brady impression) to take care of their ten-year-old daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace), who is ostracized at school because of her weird paranormal-investigating and collecting parents. (I’m with the mean kids on this one.)
Mary Ellen is unexpectedly joined in her baby-sitting duties by her moderately edgy friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife), whose dad died recently and who is determined to find out what goes on in the Warrens’ locked room (which she does with ridiculous ease).
Occasionally distractions are provided by visits from Mary Ellen’s boy-band cute, non-threatening admirer and local checkout clerk, Bob (Michael Cimino).
In a Night at The Evil Museum fashion, the artifacts in the Warrens’ demon museum come to life over the course of a night, which, despite aggressive editing and Joseph Bishara’s appropriately shrieking score, feels exceedingly long.
There’s scene after scene of characters running down shadowy wall-papered hallways, visions of dead people popping up and disappearing, sudden crashes, dragged bodies and power failures. A menagerie of evil characters and objects compete for starring roles in their own future sequels: A bloody bride, a skeletal “Ferryman” character with coins on his eyes.
There are also objects, a haunted TV set, a mechanical monkey and a self-typing typewriter, which seems to have exerted its demonic influence on the stuck-key quality of the script.
Annabelle Comes Home. Directed and written by Gary Dauberman. Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife and Michael Cimino. Anabelle Comes Home shows at the Scotiabank, Yonge-Dundas and Yonge-Eglinton theatres