Monday, February 24, 2020

Home Is Where the Haunting Is

We haven't had a Shortening yet without evil dolls, and damned if we're going to start now!

Dedicated readers might be curious as to why I've never before used this space to tackle this horror decade's most prominent porcelain villain. Part of may stem from the fact that Annabelle, you know, doesn't actually DO anything. 

It's kind of beautiful, and if you really want to dive deeper into just how grand a dame this toy is, I urge you to read Final Girl blogger Stacie Ponder's brilliant essay on the subject. 

Now obviously, I don't mind a doll that does nothing. Observe my complete adoration with Cathy's Curse and you'll understand that sometimes, a creepy pile of fabric with a face is enough in itself without Chucky-esque one-liners. And the truth is, I've genuinely enjoyed the first two Annabelle movies. So why not continue the journey?

Quick Plot: Beginning just a few minutes following the events of the first Annabelle, Lorraine and Ed Warren have successfully transported the titular doll to their basement of horrors. Locked behind blessed church glass, she sits back and waits.

The Warrens are called out of town to do some ghost hunting, leaving their daughter Judy (last year's Shortening queen, The Bad Seed/The Haunting of Hill House's Mckenna Grace) in the care of kind teenage babysitter Mary Ellen (Jumanji's delightful Madison Iseman). While Mary Ellen was hoping to play some board games and bake a birthday cake for the lonely Judy, her wilder best friend Daniela shows up with other plans. 

And roller skates.

I can't imagine what world we live in where a ten-year-old girl can put on shoes with wheels for the first time in her LIFE and only manage to have one fall around the block. But perhaps the PTSD from the one time I attempted to roller boogie in the 4th grade just still burns.

Anyway, Daniela is eager to explore the Warrens' collection in the hopes of finding some kind of communication line to her recently deceased father. Naturally, she ends up freeing our favorite blond in the process, along with a whole batch of demons, ghosts, and for good measure, CGI werewolves.

Making his directorial debut, Gary Dauberman (who penned all three installments) creates a very stable PG-13 haunted house feel that should come across as a far bigger compliment than it might sounds. While The Conjuring universe has had its highs and lows, the Annabelle series has, for me, been consistently enjoyable. 

Even if the doll doesn't do sh$t.

With Annabelle Comes Home (or Annabelle: Homecoming, as I've been calling it for last year), Dauberman gives us what I affectionally call slumber party horror. Stakes are raised and the cast sells the terror, but at a certain point, the comfort level of (SPOILER ALERT) knowing that your extremely likable, extremely young cast is going to be okay. 

There's a place for hard, cruel horror, and another for spooky jump scares with heart. When done well, that latter spot is a darn good time.

High Points
There was a point early on in Annabelle Comes Home where I worried we'd be following a very dumb and slightly cruel teenager, but one of the nicest things about this film is that its characters are generally nice. It's amazing how far that goes for a film

Low Points
I know there are many real-life people who have issues with the actual Warrens, but fictionally, it's hard to accept that a couple who've spent their lives dealing with supernatural horrors would be so casual as to trust a teenager and a mere deadbolt to supervise their daughter and a house full of evil objects

If you can't nail the design (particularly a CGI one) of a werewolf, think very, very hard about whether it's worth including one in your film

Lessons Learned
The law of Checkhov's inhaler never fails

There's no such thing as enticing pizza in the horror genre

The art of wooing involves rock 'n roll

Annabelle Comes Home isn't groundbreaking, but it's a solid romp that I found incredibly satisfying. As a franchise, it's taken an interesting journey in focusing on adults, children, and now teenagers. I'll be curious to see where it goes next. 

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