On June 22, Salem Horror Fest held a midnight showing (actually, 11 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday, but it played across midnight, so it counts) of the newest movie in the Conjuring universe: Annabelle Comes Home (2019), at Cinema Salem, in Salem, Massachusetts. Being forewarned, I took a little nap when I got out of work (don’t scoff. I’m fifty now, and I did work that day, and I just wanted to make sure I could make it through the whole thing, even if it sucked), and was in line early to make sure I got a seat.
I got one next to a pair of young gentlemen, one of whom was a horror aficionado (at least according to their pre-Annabelle conversation, which I couldn’t help overhearing), while the other was not. It was the not who turned out to be the more interesting to me. You see, once the lights dimmed and the film started, he seemed unable to stop talking to the screen.
He tried very hard to be unobtrusive about it, smothering himself behind at least one hand and whispering, but in the quiet times, when the rest of the theater had gone silent—usually in anticipation of a jump-scare, of which there were several—I could barely hear a rather muffled “No . . . no . . . oh my Gooooood . . .”
Now, I might have found this annoying. I might have wound up sitting here behind my Chromebook pounding the keys angrily about the young man who should have had himself a tall glass of shut up rather than ruining my entire Annabelle Comes Home experience. But the thing is, he didn’t. Actually, he made it better.
If you’ve been keeping track of the films of the Conjuring universe, you may have noted a definite darkening trend in the series. The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 featured the character of Ed Warren, and though I have no idea whether the man had a sense of humor in real life, in the films he’s been written that way. Throwing out the occasional bad joke or dad joke (that’s what we call them around our house, the rest of the world knows them as puns), Ed (Patrick Wilson) gave us the occasional chuckle to lighten the mood. The films used those lighter points to offset the darker ones, but at least there was some lightness there. We saw a lot less of that (and it wasn’t like there was a lot to begin with) in Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, and if there were any smiles to be found in The Nun, I must have missed them; the hanged priest was the high point in the film.
Full disclosure: I have not, as yet, seen the other 2019 release in the series, The Curse of La Llorona, so I can’t say for certain whether there were chuckles to be found there. I aim to rectify the situation ASAP, but from the trailers I have to say it doesn’t look like a movie brimming with giggles.
With all that’s gone before, and the serious let’s make this as dark as we can trend the series has been on, I’ll be honest: I went into this screening expecting kind of a deep dark hole of a film.
I was wrong.
Rather than trying to go deeper and darker, writers and director James Wan and Gary Dauberman injected a whole lot of unexpected fun into this movie. Annabelle Comes Home returns us to the life of the Warrens, which means we get more of Ed’s sense of humor. But the bulk of the film takes place when Ed and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) have gone out for the evening, leaving their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace) in the capable hands of her babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). The trouble begins, as it so often does, when Mary Ellen’s best friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife) crashes the party. Daniela, who has an almost obsessive fascination with all things supernatural, especially the Warrens and their experiences in demonology and exorcism.
Does anyone really doubt she’ll somehow find her way into Ed and Lorraine’s X-files trophy room to touch all the things she’s not supposed to touch?
I mean, really?
Since the bulk of the movie is about kids, teens, it’s the most lighthearted film in the series—you can’t show me a group of teen friends who don’t have at least one running joke threading through their time together, and usually more than one. The movie follows suit, with a couple of jokes running all the way through and some of the interactions between the kids are just plain fun—fun without crossing the line into camp, or spoof.
But don’t get me wrong: this is a film sitting firmly in the Conjuring universe, and as such there’s atmospheric creepiness, slow burn horror, and jump scares aplenty. That’s the second time I’ve mentioned jump scares (if you’ve been counting), and that’s because there are quite a few of them. But while I am a person who tires of those moments, to the point that I’ll find them annoying if there are too many shoehorned into a ninety-minute show, I think Dauberman uses them very effectively here to uphold the overall entertainment of this film. Between the humor and the occasional big boo setup that isn’t exploited (a little like a sneeze that’s come right to the doorstep then faded away, the ah without the choo, only much less annoying) the timing on the jump scares seemed perfect to me. As did the jokes.
All of this brings me back to the screen whisperer beside me. The reason he didn’t annoy me was simple: his outer voice matched my inner. I don’t usually get out to the theater. I’m much more likely to catch my entertainment (horror or otherwise) on the small screen, in the comfort of my own home (I got Roku, yo!). Since there’s no one there to care, I’ll often talk to that little screen—or a pet, if one’s available. I recently, watching Swamp Shark (2011), I predicted who would die and expounded upon the general deadliness of shark attacks for my sister’s cat, Charlie. Charlie seemed good with it, as long as I kept absently scratching him. He is a cat.
The whisperer murmured his way through the parts I might have murmured through, had I been alone. Or watching with Charlie. And I could only hear him because the rest of the crowd was holding its breath, everyone, all at once. Audience reactions were like that all through the film; we laughed together, gasped together, and occasionally had the ah without the choo together. There were no stragglers and no instances of two or three people saying “Ha!” or “Whoa!” alone, the rest of us sort of snickering at them in the dark. The audience went on a ride, and they did so together, because (in my humble opinion) the movie works, and it’s fun.
Would I advise you to go see Annabelle Comes Home? Yup, especially if you’ve seen some of the Conjuring films. It’s more flat-out fun than all the others, and if you want the full effect, go see it with an audience somewhere; if you’re going to take the ride, might as well take it in a Cadillac, you know what I mean?
Side note: y’all have no idea how hard it was during the silent tense moments not to reach out to grab the whisperer’s shoulder and shout boo! No idea.
So that’s it for Annabelle Comes Home (2019). If you’ve seen it, let me know what you thought in the comments below. If you haven’t, well, go see it, then come back and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Because I sure do love me some monster movies.
Annabelle was in the lobby.
Even she would have enjoyed the film!