ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)
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The third time is the charm, as the latest Annabelle flick is a haunted house roller coaster ride of scares, fun and thrills! The film starts off from the opening scene of The Conjuring with paranormal investigators Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick WIlson) Warren, bringing the haunted doll home and placing it in their room of haunted and cursed objects, locked inside a blessed glass cathedral case. They have to go away overnight and leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), who has inherited some of her mother’s psychic abilities, with pretty babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s feisty friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes over, too, and despite warnings, goes into the forbidden room of haunted and curse objects, in the hopes of contacting her dead father. Annabelle is released from her prison and a sleepover becomes a nightmare, as the demonic doll lets all the malevolent spirits loose with the three girls trapped inside the house.
This is how you make a haunted house movie! Gary Dauberman hits a grand slam his first time at bat as the writer and director of this threequel. He has written for The Conjuring Universe before, but shows he knows how to direct horror, too, with this delightfully old-fashioned scare-fest. Dauberman uses some very atmospheric camera work, in-camera practical effects, some very well-built tension and suspense, along with some outright goose-bump inducing scares, to deliver simply one of the best haunted house movies since Poltergeist…the 1982 original, that is. His script cleverly gets the adult Warrens out of the house and using some classic horror tropes turns an already spooky home in a nightmare for the three young ladies trapped inside. There are a few jump scares, but only to climax some expertly built tension while his camera turns every shadow into the potential hiding place for something evil. Anything could come from anywhere at any time and it keeps one constantly on edge. The room of haunted objects is wisely a focus and Dauberman milks all the chilling tchotchke for all it’s worth. Despite conjuring some Carpenter level scares, it’s the emotional depth that really makes it work. The girls are all three-dimensional characters. Judy is a very likable kid, who’s “spooky” parents have earned her outcast status at school, with Mary Ellen being her only real friend. Mary Ellen is a sweet and very endearing young lady and one who is very brave when tasked with protecting Judy. Her tenderness and protectiveness towards the Warren’s daughter really make her someone whose wellbeing you care about. Daniela could have been a stereotype ‘bad girl”, but Dauberman gives her a sympathetic and sweet core under the mischievous veneer. Her inner pain over the death of her father gives her a very sympathetic and endearing quality, even if this mess is kinda her fault. Add to it all that, that the writer/director, having put you through a last act ringer, gives us a nice cool down with a very sweet climax that works far better than it should being this is an intense horror flick. Very Spielbergian.
The cast are wonderful here and really bring the scripted characters to life. Farmiga and Wilson are basically just there at the beginning and end but have really locked these characters down. Regardless of what you think of the real Warrens, their cinematic counterparts are quite the likable duo. Mckenna Grace handles the lead like a pro. She really makes us feel Judy’s loneliness due to the reputation caused by her parent’s line of work and the emotional turmoil caused by inheriting her mother’s abilities. Obviously, the demonic spirit in Annabelle, targets her. Madison Iseman continues to impress as an actress. She takes the stereotypical babysitter and gives her a very endearing personality and imbuing her with a very natural sweetness in her caring for Judy. She’s also brave and resilient when Annabelle’s demonic entity unleashes all the other spirits, including a particularly spooky entity that sets its sights on the babysitter. Iseman has a natural girl-next-door presence, and she really makes this character three dimensional. Same could be said of Katie Sarife as Daniela. Her character is more the mischievous bad girl, but Sarife really makes her a bit complex as inside she is in pain over the death of her father, and it motivates some of the bad decisions she makes. She wants to talk to her father one last time. She is also very sweet at heart, especially when it comes to Judy. Makes for a very un-stereotypical classic character. All three young actresses share great chemistry, which makes their on-screen relationships gel realistically. Lastly, is Michael Cimino as Bob, a nice boy who has a crush on Mary Ellen. Their awkward and sweet conversation scene, when he comes over to the Warren’s to see her, has such a natural feel to it. A perfect example of a good script meeting a good cast.
This movie gave continual goosebumps to a man who has literally been watching horror movies for half a century. It proves when a talented director pushes all the right buttons, and in the right ways, old tropes can become solid scares. We have a nice build to the story and given time to get to know some well-rounded and likable characters, all the while the tension is simmering with it. We are then thrown into a literal fun house of horrors, as all hell breaks loose in the last act. Along the way Dauberman proves subtle nuances can be just as scary as grotesque phantoms and nothing makes the scares stronger than a solid emotional center to all the supernatural hijinks. An incredibly impressive directorial debut from Gary Dauberman who delivers one of the scariest flicks in quite some time and yet one with some surprisingly sweet and sentimental moments that mix far better than one might expect. Evoking Carpenter and Spielberg at their best in your first flick is quite an accomplishment.
Rated 4 (out of 4) Annabelles.