When did the “Annabelle” franchise morph into “Paranormal Activity?”
The former is now content to make us stare at the screen until something that isn’t supposed to move moves.
That’s more or less it for “Annabelle Comes Home,” the third film in the mediocre “Conjuring” spinoff series. Yes, our favorite ghost busters, Lorraine and Ed Warren, return. They exist merely to introduce a new, aggressively bland set of characters.
The franchise, never a blood-soaked affair, has had all the edges sanded clean. The stakes have never been lower. The same holds true for our interest level.
We’re back in the 1970s, and the Warrens (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson) have secured the devilish Annabelle doll in the safest place possible – their home’s possessed item parlor.
Do the maids get a bonus for dusting that room?
Enter a group of teens, including the mildly mischievous Daniela (Katie Sarife). She’s still grieving after the death of her father, so she starts poking around the Room That Shall Not Be Visited … Unless There’s a Lazy Horror Movie Plot Involved.
Soon, Annabelle is free to do what she does best. And we all know what that is.
The doll’s key characteristic is showing up in places where she doesn’t belong. On a rocking chair. Under the covers. Right next to a main character. Does anyone still find this spooky?
Creepy stuff happens all around the doomed doll, to be fair. But by now the sight of her creepy face is, well, dull.
Just like “Annabelle Comes Home!”
Things open strong with the Warrens’ return. The stars look cozy in these roles, a familiarity which could have been tweaked for dramatic impact. Instead, there’s a calmness to their approach that bleeds into the main story.
One could argue the film is both a faith-based shocker and an entry point for teens curious about the horror genre. It’s refreshing for any film to treat Christianity as if it doesn’t give people Cooties.
For everyone else, though, this is a misbegotten affair.
There’s something to be said for a horror film that spills not a drop of blood. It’s called restraint, and some great horror movies revel in it. Here, that restraint gives way to yawns.
The Christian film genre is enjoying a steady ascent, both in terms of quality and storytelling. “Annabelle” feels like an entry from, say, five years ago. The teen characters are all squeaky clean and dull. The object of co-star Madison Iseman’s affections suggests warmed over comic relief.
Comic moments always pop in horror movies when they arrive before, or after, a big scare. The latter is nonexistent here.
Instead, everyone is happy, smiling and kind … until Annabelle enters the frame.
FAST FACT: The first two “Annabelle” films, “Annabelle” and “Annabelle: Creation” earned $84 million and $102 million, respectively.
Writer/director Gary Dauberman has had a hand in the previous “Annabelle” films. “Home” marks his first time behind the camera, and he emerges as wildly competent, nothing more.
The real problem in the film is obvious.
Who’s actually in danger in “Annabelle Comes Home?” You sense early on that the stakes are impossibly low. That’s a no-no for a horror film.
A final note: “Annabelle Comes Home” somehow earned an “R” rating. That’s a mystery that laps the Sphinx given its squeaky-clean approach.
HiT or Miss: Neophyte horror fans might find some pleasure in the latest “Annabelle” sequel. Everyone else will be sorely frustrated by a franchise gone to seed.