Since The Conjuring 2 set up the franchise as the horror version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, things have gone off the rails somewhat.
Annabelle: Creation (the second Annabelle prequel) turned out to be quite good, but The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona were ripped apart by the critics and were over-reliant on cheap jump scares.
The Nun managed to battle the bad reviews to become the highest-grossing of the franchise to date with $365.6 million, but The Curse of La Llorona struggled with $122 million, the lowest of the franchise to date.
So there was a lot riding on Annabelle Comes Home to prove that there is some life left in The Conjuring universe, and it wouldn’t just join the growing scrapheap of failed shared universes.
Fortunately, Annabelle Comes Home manages to get the universe back on track by remembering what made the franchise a hit – and we’re not just talking about the return of the Warrens.
Of course it helps that Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga make an appearance in the threequel as Ed and Lorraine Warren, but their role is relatively minor. They’re there for the extended opening sequence as the Warrens bring Annabelle home, following on from The Conjuring‘s cold open.
But the majority of the action takes place over one night a year later and the Warrens are nowhere to be seen. We are in firm Conjuring territory though: kids in trouble in a spooky old house that could really use some WD-40 on the door hinges.
As horrors go, there’s nothing in Annabelle Comes Home that’s all that scary, certainly not for any hardened horror buffs.
However, writer-director Gary Dauberman (who also wrote Annabelle: Creation) knows his way around a fun creepy sequence that works in a mainstream horror. The scares in The Nun and La Llorona firmly played by horror conventions, but here Dauberman is more playful with horror clichés.
It lends Annabelle Comes Home a feeling of a funfair ghost train, an entertaining, slightly spooky ride that makes the most of a room full of cursed artefacts.
So you get a succession of ghoulish set pieces – including things such as the Ferryman, a cursed wedding dress and a psychic television – before everything wraps up neatly in the end and won’t leave you with sleepless nights.
It may sound like we’re being negative, but we’re not. Annabelle Comes Home works because of that tone. It’s not trying to be a devastating horror like Midsommar; it’s a classic haunted house tale that The Conjuring franchise is built on. And like those movies, it has fun with its concept and doesn’t just throw out LOUD NOISES to make people jump.
Add in a stronger Conjuring connection than the previous two Annabelle movies had and it’s effectively The Conjuring 2.5… or The Conjuring 1.5 technically, given it probably takes place between the two of them.
Annabelle Comes Home won’t be remembered as a horror classic in years to come, but it didn’t need to be.
What it needed was to remind Conjuring fans why they loved this franchise in the first place. They’re traditional haunted house tales, told well and with an invention that twists horror clichés in entertaining ways.
With The Conjuring 3 coming next year, Annabelle Comes Home goes back to the basics – and it’s all the better for it.
Annabelle Comes Home is in US cinemas now and is released in UK cinemas on July 10.