The extended summer-monsoon season is already far better looking than the dismal summer that saw Hollywood go down with the fever of sequels and rehashes, just as ‘Toy Story 4’ and the seventh instalment in the ‘Conjuring’ universe that hit theatres this week rekindled some hope for distributors and producers. However, yet again, there still is no new original movie in near or far sight. While franchise vehicles are completely characteristic of the summer and vacations for quite a part of the populace, unfortunately or fortunately, sequels, prequels and spinoffs have become the norm.
To give you an idea, not a single week has passed since the summer movie season kicked in with the release of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ in April, that is not a part of a franchise or shared universe. We are not necessarily complaining as long as we genuinely get to see great movie every week, but this year has been especially unremarkable until now in terms of the films that have come out, both on critical fronts and commercial. The latest to ride in that wave of films is ‘Annabelle Comes Home’, the third film in a horror franchise spun off from another one that kicked off with James Wan’s superior ‘The Conjuring’ back in 2013. While it seemingly does look better at the outset, and having watched it, I can confirm that this is still one of the better entries in the franchise, but doesn’t hold up to the force that were the two Wan Conjuring films. Read on to get to my final word on the film, but before that, there is plenty for you to chew on if you loved ‘Annabelle Comes Home’.
The third Annabelle film opens four years after the events of the first ‘Annabelle’ film in 2014, with the same scene starring the two demonologists investigating the mysterious and violent happenings at the house of Debbie and Camilla, two nurses who live together. By the sheer number of occurrences, this scene should be part of the movie going public’s rote memory by now. This is actually the exact same scene from the prelude of the first Conjuring film, and in essence, this is also right where the first ‘Annabelle’ (2014) ended, with Annabelle being bought from an antiques store by a woman for her daughter Debbie, and finally, the Warrens taking the doll in, but what happens next is what is explored by the beginning of this movie.
While the Warrens are driving Annabelle to their own residence, they come across an accident near a tunnel that fans of the franchise may instantly realize to be from the other instalment from this franchise released just earlier this year, ‘The Curse of La Llorona’. The accident causes the road to be blocked while they are instructed by a police officer to turn back and take an alternative route.
Needless to say, they quickly get lost on the road, and their car uncannily breaks down near a cemetery where Ed gets down to examine. Lorraine sees a number of spirits from the cemetery awakened and drawn to them, with one of them pushing Ed on to the street, who then narrowly escapes an accident from a speeding truck passing by. Lorraine is quick to deduce that the spirits were actually drawn to Annabelle, and the couple arrange for Father Gordon from the first ‘Conjuring’ film to bless the house and encase her in a glass enclosure inside the Warren’s room for haunted artefacts. It is revealed in the opening text that the room was in actuality too, blessed weekly, and even the demonologists credited Annabelle’s malevolence.
The famed demonologists quickly explain that the doll wasn’t possessed in and of itself, but I’ll still give a refresher so that we are just on the same page. Since the porcelain doll is actually not a living object, it, by definition cannot be possessed and is therefore used as a conduit by a malevolent entity (revealed later), which would explain the doll mysteriously moving around or ‘behaving’ violently. The conduit, which is also meant to signify the first two stages of demonic possession as doctrined by the Warrens in the first movie, namely infestation and oppression, is supposed to actually help the demon behind it gain a soul to possess.
In the same vein, they also argue with the logic of burning the doll or destroying it, as opposed to safely housing it away from influence, saying that “it would just make things worse”. The “conduit”, along with the parent demon therefore have the power to manipulate or summon other spirits, because that is what a conduit means really. The premise of this film, with Annabelle being brought “home” and placed in a glass case inside the Warrens’ room of haunted artefacts and possessed objects would just mean that Annabelle, and in essence the demon behind her, got their own playground. It was an accident waiting to happen, as it does unwittingly as the film progresses. Back to the plot now.
A year later, the Warrens appoint Mary Ellen to babysit their daughter Judy while they are away overnight to investigate another case. Mary Ellen drives Judy to school and heads to the supermarket for some supplies for preparing an early surprise for Judy’s upcoming birthday, and promises to pick her up later when school ended. Judy is generally shy and seldom talks or initiates conversations, but is frequently bullied by kids at school owing to a recently published report in the newspaper about what her parents did for a living.
One of the other reasons she prefers to stay to herself is that she feels tormented by strange sightings of spirits, much like her mother (Lorraine Warren, who was a renowned psychic in real life). At school too, the spirit of a dead priest, one that she recognises from a statue at school, continuously follows her, only for her to end up further alienating herself. At the supermarket, she meets her crush Bob Palmeri and Daniela Rios, with the latter coercing Mary Ellen into letting her in at the Warren’s to, as she playfully remarks, “see some spooky stuff”. Her real purpose of getting in there, as revealed later is that she is troubled with the recent death of her father in a car accident for which she feels responsible, having been the driver that fateful day.
Daniela thus wishes to figure out a way to contact the dead in the afterlife, the clue to which she believes lies in the Warrens’ home, and more particularly, their room of haunted artefacts and possessed items. Again, needless to say but she quickly bribes her way in but finds the door to the room securely locked.
She ventures into Ed’s home office and fatefully stumbles upon the key to the door of the room, also coming across several of their case files. She eventually finds her way into the room of artefacts, and touches and examines almost every single artefact in there. She then tries to contact her departed father (or any other spirit in the room, which unbeknownst to her fill up the entire room) to make contact with her through an artefact called the mourner’s bracelet. She briefly sees apparitions of her father in the room leading her to believe that it was all working, when in reality, it is Annabelle who is pulling the strings here. The doll suddenly, and seemingly inanimately, budges her head onto the glass cabinet, as if falling from her chair, which too Daniela takes as a sign of one of the spirits trying to contact her.
As expected, Daniela unlocks Annabelle’s case, and leaves it shut but unlocked while leaving the room. Annabelle strikes against the glass another time, only to budge it open while she falls on the floor, now set free of the case and the religious incantation that bound the demon behind her. The terror is shortly harbingered upon the house, with the spirit of Annabelle “Bee” Mullens from the ‘Annabelle: Creation’ film (the Mullens’ deceased daughter who the parents try to summon/contact in the afterlife but accidentally end up summoning the malevolent spirit housed inside Annabelle) and spooks Mary Ellen out by asking for “Annabelle”. While the day passes by with some eventualities that the unassuming Judy, Daniela and Mary Ellen dismiss as mere coincidences, now is when the night of horrors is unleashed.
While the three girls are alone at night, the ripe setting of the film finally begins taking shape post the interval and the film begins coming into its own with Annabelle unleashing the rested spirits housed within or related to several of the artefacts in the room. After Mary Allen puts Judy to bed, she is haunted by the Ferryman, who according to legend is the spirit responsible for ferrying across the souls of the dead to Hades (hell). The legend, and Ed Warren’s case files reveal that people placed ritualistic coins over the eyes of the dead as part of the Ferryman’s payment to take them across, and the film and the makers inventively utilize the coins, the Ferryman (who is never shown in actuality, presumably being saved for a big surprise in his solo movie that I am ready to bet, will happen soon or a sequel) and the corpses possessed by him to deliver genuine, effective scares, however rare and far apart they may be in the film.
Meanwhile, Annabelle creeps up in bed next to Judy and the demon behind her reveals himself in a stunningly effective sequence involving multi-chromatic light falling on the wall of the room. The demon is an incarnation of the Ram, that has symbolic inclinations to Satan. The demon in its true form then proceeds to terrorize both the girls as they seek refuge throughout the house.
Later, Bob, who confesses his feelings for Mary Ellen, is stranded outside the house when he is attacked by the Hellhound, a vicious werewolf who exists solely in its spirit form. Meanwhile, Daniela, who had earlier left the house, realises that she mistakenly carried the keys of the artefacts room with her and proceeds to return it through the back door. When in the room, she is trapped inside as the door shuts and is haunted and tormented by multiple artefacts coming to life, especially a toy monkey and a telephone that mysteriously starts ringing.
The highlight here is an old TV that mirrors what is in front of it, while displaying the near future related to the same. Daniela sees her own reflection drenched in blood inside the television, and just as she is about to answer the ringing telephone in reality that clearly implied that something bad was about to happen, she is interrupted by Mary Ellen and Judy, who in the ensuing horror deduces that they will have to find Annabelle again and encase her in order to contain the evil and put the spirits to rest.
Annabelle Comes Home Ending, Explained
With Annabelle seemingly deceptively changing places making it difficult for the group to reach her. The trio are attacked by different spirits and a spirit known as the bride, that Judy describes as possessing those who wear it causing them to become increasingly violent, possesses Daniela who then starts attacking Mary Ellen and Judy. While the two temporarily escape, they seek to find Annabelle by following the priest’s spirit that followed Judy in school, with Judy claiming that not all spirits were bad. The way leads them through the spirit with the Samurai armour, and reanimated corpses with coins over their eyes.
Through a series of horrors, Mary Ellen and Judy are able to retrieve Annabelle through a cellar like room, and while they are still attacked by numerous spirits who try to stop them from making it happen, including the now possessed Daniela. The duo then manage to exorcise Daniela and banish the spirit of the bride from her body by playing Ed’s video footage of the actual exorcism of the bride focussed at Daniela. They are then prompted to search for the keys of the glass cabinet from the Feely Meely board game, which Judy does immediately, only to be followed by protruding demonic hands from within the game. Finally, with the help of Daniela, the Mary Ellen and Judy manage to push the doll back into the glass cabinet, immediately stopping the disturbances, containing all evil and putting the spirits to rest.
In the aftermath, the Warrens arrive at their residence and get to hear the escapades of the girls the night before. While Daniela apologises to Lorraine for her ill doing, Lorraine understands that she did so only to get in touch with her father in his afterlife. She then communicates that she was able to establish contact with her father who tells Daniela that he missed her and that it wasn’t her fault that night. She further hands over the Mourner’s Bracelet to Daniela who promises to use it for good only. The film ends with the kind of gleefully positive and borderline mushy ending, akin to the two Conjuring films, with everybody uniting and joining Judy for her Birthday celebrations, while Ed strums his guitar to ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’.
Annabelle Timeline, Explained
The order of release for the movies may confuse some viewers, seeing as though it takes the original spinoff: prequel: direct sequel route to get to where the last film ended. However, here is a quick breakdown of the same timeline in linear fashion:
1943: Doll maker Samuel Mullins and Esther Mullins lose their daughter Annabelle “Bee” Mullins, kicking off the events of the first film.
1955: The Mullins open their doors to six girls from an orphanage, and their caretaker sister Charlotte who are then terrorised by the malevolent presence in the Mullins home through the porcelain doll Samuel creates as a means to bring back his daughter. The events of ‘Annabelle: Creation’ ensue.
1967: The film ties up into the first Annabelle, with a grown up Janice (still possessed) and secluded being adopted by the Higgins family. The events of the first ‘Annabelle’ film (2014) ensue with the Higgins being murdered by their daughter who has by now joined the Satanic cult and sacrificed herself. The doll ends up in an antique shop and is bought by a woman for her daughter Debbie.
1971: Events of ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ ensue, with the doll being taken away from the nurses’ home and to the home of the Warrens in their artefact room.
While this might strictly be personal opinion, I found ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ to be a tad bit better than ‘Creation’, which needless to say was already noted as a vast improvement over its predecessor, so it would be safe to assume that the first ‘Annabelle’ can be remarkably considered to be out of contention. ‘Annabelle Comes Home’ has the typical trappings of a mid-summer Hollywood franchise entry, and yet still, through its near perfect mix of horror and comedy, albeit the virtue of knowing when to do which still seems missing, manages to be entertaining enough to warrant a visit to the cinemas.
Coming to the scares: they may be far apart and scarce themselves, but the film has a funhouse ride kind of feel to it that is unshakeable, and is one of the winning factors here. There are jump scares, and while most of them dissipate to release the tension almost comically with a relentless build up, which I can only hope was a deliberate move, they were inventive to say the least, and were skillfully shot and conceived, automatically landing the film several notches higher than most of the films in this franchise. It’s no ‘Shining’, but neither is it pretending to be. The scares take time coming and the actual plot may be wafer thin, but the killer doll’s third outing actually stated why this franchise is still alive and pretty much kicking.
Read More in Explainers: Sixth Sense | The Witch | Blair Witch Project