Quality horror franchises are hard to come by, especially of late, so it is rather impressive that all eight films in the extended Conjuring Universe offer something of merit, including the latest entry, Annabelle Comes Home. The directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who wrote earlier installments Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, this third film in the Annabelle spin-off saga is different from its predecessors; offering more humor and haunted-house spooks than demonic chills. On one hand, Annabelle Comes Home cannot match the intensity of The Conjuring and does little to move the franchise's overall mythology forward, but it is also a lot of fun. Dauberman writes here, too, and the film sees the nefarious doll become part of a ghost collective that haunts the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) when they leave her at home with a babysitter.
Following events of the previous films, the Warrens confiscate the Annabelle doll and lock her in their artifact room behind glass with a priest's blessing. The Warrens are largely absent from the film after the cold open, and leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) at home with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and a friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife), while they travel to investigate another paranormal occurrence. Despite grave warnings not to enter the artifact room, Daniela sneaks inside in the hopes that she can contact her late father. She snoops around and gets spooked, inadvertently releasing several malevolent spirits and knocking Annabelle's protective case open. Never content to just relax, Annabelle begins unleashing other spirits trapped by the Warrens, including a ghastly ferryman, bloody bride and a possessed board game.
It is evident pretty early on that Annabelle Comes Home is not going for the same white-knuckle chills as some of the other films in the universe. That said, I appreciate Dauberman and company's willingness to bring something new to the franchise, even if this may end up being one of the "lesser" entries. I had a lot of fun watching the spirits, ghosts, monsters and demons wreak havoc on the three young women trapped in the Warren home. When a young suitor arrives to serenade Mary Ellen, he is attacked by the Black Shuck, a ghostly dog based in East Anglian legend, and Annabelle soon leaves the artifact room to cause her own trouble. The film is not especially serious or intense, but instead offers 106 minutes of spook-house jolts laced with humor.
If anything, Annabelle Homes Homes has the trappings of a hastily assembled project meant to keep the franchise fresh in viewers' minds. The sets, creature design and acting is all solid, but the narrative does not offer the dramatic payoff of the best franchise installments. The Annabelle doll is somewhat less menacing here, too, though the climax does offer real danger for the protagonists. The spirits here are only lightly explained, and I do not expect them to receive spin-off films like The Nun. I wrote in January that The Nun "is a well-meaning cash-in no matter how you cut it," and the same applies to Annabelle Comes Home. But that is what happens when you have a successful franchise; you keep moving forward. While it is not going down as a seminal horror film, this latest Conjuring spin-off is absolutely entertaining, which makes it worth adding to your collection.
Warner Brothers provides an excellent 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image for this film that handles the shadowy, nighttime interiors with ease. Fine-object detail and texture are abundant and allow you to appreciate the intricate set and creature design. The period-appropriate décor and colors are complemented by lifelike skin tones and appropriate highlights. Blacks are inky and shadow detail is strong, and the transfer avoids black crush. The image looks great in motion and my only complaint is the minor noise related to the digital source.
The disc includes a Dolby Atmos mix that I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. While much of the movie is quiet and dialogue-driven, the mix absolutely comes alive during the spook-house action sequences. Dialogue is clear and crisp, whether delivered from the center or surround channels, and the score is appropriately mixed. Ambient and action effects span the entire soundscape and clunks, footsteps and shrieks surround the viewer and immerse them in the action. The LFE also provides ample support when called upon. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are included, as are English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set arrives in an eco-case and includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and an HD digital copy code. The case is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras include a three-part, behind-the-scenes featurette with segments on The Ferryman/Demon (5:18/HD), The Bloody Bride (2:57/HD), and The Werewolf (3:07/HD). You also get featurettes The Artifact Room and the Occult (5:07/HD); The Light and the Love (4:26/HD); and a few Deleted Scenes (11:28/HD).
The Conjuring Universe expands again with Annabelle Comes Home an entertaining, haunted-house thriller with plenty of humor and solid production design. While the film does not match the intensity and narrative effectiveness of the original The Conjuring or Annabelle: Creation, it is certainly a worthy "lesser" film in the series. Recommended.