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ANNABELLE COMES HOME **

Directed by Gary Dauberman. Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife. Horror, 106 mins, cert 15.

In cinemas July 10th from Warner Bros

 

Another week brings yet another spin-off from the Conjuring-verse, the only franchise that comes to mind where the spin-offs have more sequels than the original series that birthed them. Once more we check in with the ludicrously designed creepy doll Annabelle as she pops up in people’s bedrooms signalling the advent of another series of ear-splitting jump scares.

 

Directed and written by Gary Dauberman, who also wrote the previous entries as well as THE NUN.  ANNABELLE COMES HOME brings back the welcome presence of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life spiritual investigators played with real warmth by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as they come into possession of Annabelle, giving her pride of place in their well-stocked basement of evil spiritual arcana. Placing her in a glass cabinet with a big sticker saying “POSITIVELY DO NOT OPEN” on it however does not work as well as you would think when teenager Daniele, Katie Sarife, pops in on her friend Mary, Madison Iseman, who is babysitting young Judy, played by Mckenna Grace. Judy seems to have inherited her mother’s skillset of contacting the deceased, a fact that Daniele has a particular interest in due to a family bereavement. It is this thinly sketched set of circumstances that leads Annabelle to be released from her glass cage despite that big sticker.

 

What follows is a paper-thin excuse to trot out a series of set pieces featuring several hastily introduced scary and spooky archetypes in the cynical hope that may inspire their own further spin-offs, whether it’s the lycanthropic figure of Black Shuck or the empty suit of Samurai armour. The trouble is that Dauberman’s ham-fisted attempts at putting such objects front and centre of the narrative is at the expense of something more exciting and unsettling.  Using Annabelle, who is described as “a beacon for evil spirits”, to explore what is on the other side, continually trips the film up as well as its attempts to scare and thrill.

Now a series of spooky and thrilling set pieces, however tenuously set up, has made for many a good horror film in the past. The trouble here is that Dauberman’s script and direction are so lacklustre, paling in comparison to the skill that David F. Sandberg brought to the previous entry ANNABELLE: CREATION. The promise of Ed and Lorraine tackling Annabelle head-on is soon dissipated when they suddenly drop out of the film, leaving us with little more than an extended cameo after a lengthy prologue. What we are then left with is a small cast of stereotypical characters who blunder headfirst into all manner of sub-par spooky shenanigans without a modicum of sense or self-awareness on the part of the script. Attempts at humour fall flat repeatedly, but most unforgivable is the complete lack of tension and scares. Here is a horror film that has less edge than an infant’s sippy cup. In an extended franchise of films that have already seen some peaks and troughs in quality, ANNABELLE COMES HOME jumps straight into the lower end.

 

However cliched the film and its characters are the performances do carry a winning quality to them, particularly in the case of Mckenna Grace who, despite her young age, already has established her genre credentials before this with Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. On this evidence, Dauberman should stick to scripting duties. No doubt after his work on IT CHAPTER TWO, he will find himself working on the next spin-off from this particular cinematic universe. It is anyone’s guess what particular cursed item gets its own series next, but I would not be surprised if the toy monkey with the accordion and hideous grin gets his chance to take centre stage.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

 

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