What I often find frustrating about films in the Conjuring universe is the disparity between what’s initially promised and then what’s ultimately delivered. As well-budgeted and slickly directed studio horror pics, they’re a striking rarity and I admire how they lean into the style of the era they’re set in. Annabelle Comes Home is no different, with care employed in its period recreation, as firmly rooted in the specificities of the 60s as something carrying far more prestige. But once the initial foreplay is over, teasing a stylish and substantive alternative to its more simple-minded genre peers, it falls into the same old routine. There’s a handsome framework but nothing at its centre, a script that quickly eschews anything resembling a plot, choosing to bombard us with cheap funhouse trickery instead.
While the decision to return events to the house of the Warrens allows Warners the chance to provide another bridge back to the original franchise, it also allows them to do something far more devious. Annabelle and last year’s smash hit The Nun were based on characters originally introduced in the first two Conjuring films (a third, The Crooked Man, based on a Conjuring 2 villain is on the way) and by locating the new Annabelle sequel back with the Warrens, it allows the writers and universe-constructors to toy with the idea of even more spin-offs. While admittedly, now that we’re familiar with their game, there might be no deft way of doing this, writer-director Gary Dauberman throws in so many clumsy introductions that I half-expected release dates to pop up in the corner alongside. I would bet money on either The Ferryman, The Wedding Dress or The Black Shuck getting a green light in coming weeks and while I almost admire the business behind it, it just takes me away from the story as a viewer.