Blu-ray Review: Annabelle Comes Home

Annabelle Comes Home is the latest installment in the Conjuring Universe that has become quite the force in the horror genre in the six years since The Conjuring hit theaters. While the two Conjuring films themselves were wonderful movies, with the first being one of the best horror movies of the new millennium, the majority of the other films in this universe – while financially successful (which, in the end is all that really matters to the studio) – have been quite mediocre, often delivering a paint-by-numbers feel when it comes to storytelling and scares.

The first spinoff from The Conjuring came in the form of Annabelle in 2014. Annabelle was based on the scary looking doll found inside the artifacts room inside the home of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) in The Conjuring. That was the first generic, cliché-ridden movie that began this branching universe, but it wouldn’t be the last. There was a return to quality after, as The Conjuring 2 came out next, and then Annabelle: Creation followed that up. Creation was a step in the right direction, greatly in part to director David F. Sandberg, though I found the pacing of the first act brutally slow and dull, though the way things pick up in the second half of the movie show that there is an actual interesting story behind the doll that just didn’t come across in the first film.

Then there’s the rough patch of The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, both of which are in the running with the original Annabelle for the cliché, “When is this movie over?” horror movie award. Luckily, Annabelle Comes Home rights the ship and delivers the best movie the universe has seen since The Conjuring 2. And why is that? Well, likely because it almost feels like The Conjuring 3, only with the Warren’s daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) taking center stage while her parents are out of town.

What’s weird about this though, is that screenwriter Gary Dauberman – who is a talented writer – wrote this movie in wonderfully fun fashion; however, he also wrote The Nun and the original Annabelle, so it’s hard to say why some of his movies hit a bullseye, while others miss the target completely. Maybe it is the fact that this movie has a much more Conjuring vibe to it so it’s easier to build off that already established world over trying to create something fresh for, say, The Nun and failing miserably. I’m not sure, but whatever the case may be, at least he hit the mark here, as Annabelle Comes Home is a lot of spooky fun!

One thing this movie does right is it kicks things into gear almost immediately. It begins with the Warren’s picking up Annabelle and bringing her back to their artifacts room. On the drive home their car breaks down beside a cemetery, and instantly Lorraine begins having visions of the dead, one of whom shoves Ed into oncoming traffic. He escapes unscathed, but Lorraine comes to the realization that it’s the doll that’s caused all this, as it’s a beacon for other spirits. They get it home and lock it away using sacred glass from a chapel that’s blessed by Father Gordon to contain the evil.

This is all right at the start of the film, and it sets the vibe right out of the gate. It definitely helps that Wilson and Farmiga return as the Warrens, as that gives the film some sort of instant credibility in this universe as a viewer. We jump forward a bit and The Warrens are leaving for a conference for the night, so Judy’s favourite babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) will be staying over to watch her. Unbeknownst to Judy, Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes by later that night, as she wants to be inside what’s rumoured to be a haunted house.

Daniela does bring Judy an early birthday present in a pair of roller-skates, which Judy is eager to try out and ask Mary Ellen if she can take her around the block. Mary Ellen agrees after Daniela says she’ll stay behind and make sure the cake they’re baking doesn’t burn. This is all part of Daniela’s plan to get them out of the house so she can snoop around a bit, and by snoop I mean break into the artifact room to see what she can see. Now, Daniela has her own reasons for doing what she’s doing, but it’s the perfect setup to keep this movie going at a beautiful pacing that never really lets up.

Upon entering the artifact room, Daniela somewhat accidentally opens the door to Annabelle’s case and leaves it open after she has to rush out when she hears the smoke alarm going off in the kitchen. Needless to say, no good will come of this demon once again being unleashed upon this household, and surprisingly enough Annabelle Comes Home doesn’t simply retread the same tropes of its predecessors. While it’s true that Annabelle still wants a soul, the movie doesn’t simply take the easy route, but instead creates a fantastic atmosphere filled with ghouls and ghosts that will very likely see their own origin story films in the not so distant future as this Conjuring Universe continues to grow.

With that said, I’m hoping that those movies – if they come to fruition – are on the same level of fun, scary storytelling that Annabelle Comes Home delivers, and shies away from simply being cliché-ridden duds like the original Annabelle, The Nun and La Llorona. That’s not to say that Annabelle Comes Home doesn’t have its share of jump scares, it’s just that I found them to be jump scares done right. The atmosphere that Dauberman (who also directed this film) has created allows the viewer to become fully immersed in the horrors happening on screen over simply waiting for the next “Boo!” moment like you do when you find yourself in a cheap haunted house attraction.

It also helps that that the acting in the film is the best since The Conjuring and Conjuring 2. Grace (who may be recognizable to most from her role as young Theo in the Netflix show, The Haunting of Hill House) is a perfect fit into this world and proves that she can handle another future Judy-centric film in the future with ease. Her co-stars, Iseman and Sarife are also both perfectly cast, as the trio actually come off as real people dealing with an insane, supernatural situation over some of the more wooden, forced acting that has plagued some of the universe’s past films.

Annabelle Comes Home gets my recommendation and showcases the level that all these movies in this universe can and should be at, instead of simply coming off like cash grabs for the sake of pumping out a new one every year. If you’re in the mood for a fright-filled movie that’s also fun and entertaining this Halloween season, then be sure that Annabelle Comes Home with you.

The film looks superb on Blu-ray, with the video transfer coming off sharp and delivering the spooky atmosphere perfectly to the home viewer. The sound mix is also fantastic, with the score and scares blasting out in beautiful surround sound, really adding to the creepy vibe and eerie tone of the film. Much like the film itself, both the sound and visuals are home runs.

Special Features:

Behind the Scenes –
There are three parts to this feature, but they’re fairly short at a combined 11-minutes in length, so it’s easy to take it all in at once.

Part 1: The Ferryman/Demon – This is the longest of the three at a whopping five minutes in length! The focus here is on these two major characters in the film, one of which is new to the universe, though both are played by Alexander Ward. This focuses on his portrayal of the characters, and The Ferryman is one of the ghouls I mentioned above that I wouldn’t be surprised to see get his own film in the coming years.

Part 2: The Bloody Bride – Here we take a look at this new murderous spirit, played by Natalia Safran. Of the three new characters, this is one that may have the most wiggle room to be creative with an origin film, though it’s also somewhat restricting with how they explain the background of the dress.

Part 3: The Werewolf – This is another three minute feature focusing on the werewolf scene on the film, and how it came to life.

The Artifact Room and the Occult – This is a five-minute featurette that gives the viewer a tour through this room that’s so vital to the film’s premise. We get to learn a bit more about some of the artifacts within, while also getting a good look at things without worrying about something jumping out to scare us while we do! Win, win.

The Light and the Love –
This is another five-minute featurette that touches on the love life of Ed and Lorraine, and how it brings a shred of light into the darkness that surrounds their work life.

Deleted Scenes – There are seven deleted scenes, one of which is an alternate ending. I’ll usually check those out just to compare, though I’m much happier they went with the official ending over this one. While nothing changes in the big picture, this ending doesn’t have the same impact that the one they went with has. This one all but takes Judy out of the equation and ends on a much flatter note over the more fun one that fits with the story being told.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents Annabelle Comes Home. Written & Directed by: Gary Dauberman. Starring: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Michael Cimino, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga. Running time: 116 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Oct. 8, 2019.

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