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Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Streaming Horror: Annabelle Comes Home (2019)


So much for my plan to stay away from horror for a while (after the October Horror Movie Challenge), but Annabelle Comes Home was released via Sky Cinema this weekend, so I had to take the plunge.

The latest addition to The Conjuring Universe - and part of the Annabelle sub-franchise - Annabelle Comes Home turned out to be a masterclass in teen horror movie making.

While, on one hand, not much scarier than the best episodes of Supernatural, nor even as gory, on the other writer/director Gary Dauberman concentrated on escalating tension, menace, and atmosphere.

You always suspected a jump scare was coming, but, in truth, there were only a couple in the film, the majority were red herrings, but you never know which were which until the final 'boo!'.

The film opens with the backstory of how Annabelle came into the possession of The Conjuring's protagonists, Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) and a succinct explanation of the doll's powers (she isn't possessed, as demons don't possess objects, instead she acts as a beacon and a conduit for dark forces).

Then the story jumps forward a year, to 1972, and Annabelle is safely squirrelled away in the Warrens' locked room of evil artifacts.

The Warrens are heading out on another case, leaving their young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of Brady Bunch-like babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).

At first I felt a bit cheated when I realised that the Warrens themselves would just be bookending the story of Annabelle Comes Home, but as it turns out I should have trusted Gary Dauberman to know what he was doing.

Having learned what the Warrens do for a living, Mary Ellen's best friend, Daniela Rios (Katie Sarife) drops in to surreptitiously check out the "room of cursed objects".

She is wracked with guilt over the recent death of her father, and is hoping to find a way to contact his spirit.

Instead, she is tricked into releasing Annabelle, who, in turn, unleashes as many of the trapped entities in the Warrens' secure room as she can.

The variety of spooky objects that come into play reminded me of a cross between the Friday the 13th TV series (nothing to do with Jason Voorhees) and the wonderful Warehouse 13, with the predictive television set being a particular visual highlight.

The climax, which draws in May Ellen's would-be boyfriend, Bob Palmeri (Michael Cimino), is a funfair thrill ride of spooks, monsters, and mind-trickery as a demon uses Annabelle to try and steal one of the young women's souls.

Ultimately, Annabelle Comes Home is Buffy The Vampire Slayer level teen drama and urban fantasy scares, but on a bigger budget, with enough atmosphere and misdirection to keep the audience on the edge of its seat throughout.

As always with this franchise, the film capitalises on its period setting to heighten the verisimilitude, making the jeopardy and threat wholly convincing for both the audience and the teenagers trapped inside the haunted house.

Balancing out the jump scares, there's also some laugh out loud moments, and Dauberman has a great knack of making full use of the screen, so you always have to keep half-an-eye on what's going on in the background.

Beyond question, Annabelle Comes Home is delightfully creepy and simultaneously thrilling and unnerving, making it one of my favourite entries in the ever-expanding Conjuring Universe.

While Universal may have failed to launch its Dark Universe, reinventing their classic characters for 21st Century audiences, Warner Bros and New Line Cinema have been quietly building an impressive, interconnected, universe around the mythology of The Conjuring movies.

They're not all hits, but the winners outweigh the duds. Long may it last.

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