Toys have taken over the cineplex. You’d think all of the colorful (and emotionally impactful) toys from Toy Story returning for some new adventures last week would be enough, but apparently, the studios didn’t think so. Taking their lead from miss Gabby Gabby, producers found a way to subvert the fact that it isn’t Halloween and return not one but two killer dolls back to big screens for another round of violent, scary mayhem to begin our long, hot summer — Chucky is back in a revamped Child’s Play, and Annabelle Comes Home to her cushy glass case. So, which one takes the crown as the most evil? Let’s find out.
Annabelle Comes Home is the third chapter in the Annabelle series, and the seventh(!) film in what’s now known as the Conjuring universe. That information is key as this isn’t so much an Annabelle film as it is a third Conjuring film with Annabelle at the center (and since The Conjuring 3 is already filming and slated for next year, let’s call this Conjuring 2.5).
This film is almost a direct sequel to the original Annabelle. After a quick jaunt in 2017 to find out how Annabelle was originally born, we return to the moments just after Annabelle to witness what happened as Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respecively) bring Annabelle home with them. They quickly learn, after a detour and a car mishap outside a cemetery, that not just one particular demon has attached itself to the doll — she’s actually a beacon for all other spirits.
A year later, on the eve of their daughter’s birthday, the Warren’s take a day trip, leaving Judy (Mckeena Grace) home with their trusted babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Of course, with a movie like this, it’s inevitable that Mary Ellen’s friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife), would drop in to muck up the works, snooping about the home to find a way to contact her father, who died in a car accident that she believes was her fault. She, of course, is betrothed the crown for typical stupid teen and releases Annabelle from her protective case, inadvertently unleashing a bevy of supernatural creatures about the home to help Annabelle obtain a soul.
Annabelle is conspicuously missing from the majority of the film, relying heavily on other demons to attack our party of innocents, most of which are your typical ghouls playing games as they scare the daylights out of you. There were some strong visuals at play, especially when it involved the woman in the wedding gown, and the moments that do play well elevate the material beyond simple jump scares. But writer/director Gary Dauberman focuses most of his attention on one particular entity that turns out to have the weakest backstory.
At one point, the girls stumble across a case file that includes a picture of a young victim that resembles Mary Ellen. This play on identity could have given the film an unusual mystique. Instead, it’s played as nothing more than a way to make Mary Ellen the target of the deranged soul’s rage. The idea doesn’t come off as Dauberman may have intended, and does a disservice to Annabelle herself, who becomes a supporting player in her own film. It all leads to a finale that’s resolved much quicker than it should have with a few key moments that seem forced in order to wrap things up.
After a strong second outing, Annabelle deserved more.
A doll who definitely deserved a second chance at life is Chucky. After a half-dozen unnecessary sequels that got more brazenly terrible as they went along, I re-watched the original 1988 classic, which, for all intents and purposes, is also a terrible film in its own right, one ripe for a modern retelling of the possessed doll and his demented personality.
Except this Chucky (voice of Mark Hamill) isn’t so much possessed as he is reprogrammed. Unlike the original, which saw Brad Dourif’s soul get voodoo’d into the titular Good Guy doll, in this go-around, we get a much more logical reason for Chucky to eventually go psychotic.
The Buddi doll in this iteration is like a demented Alexa, able to control all of your appliances, as well as learn and adapt to your routine. One day, Karen (Aubrey Plaza) takes a damaged Buddi doll home from work to surprise her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), for his birthday. Little does she know that the disgruntled worker who installed this particular doll’s computer chip sabotaged it by removing all of the safety protocols. So, after linking himself with Andy (what is it with the name Andy and toys?), Chucky will do what he can to protect his new best friend. It’s only when Andy and his friends are found laughing at someone killing others in a cheesy horror film that Chucky learns that violence as a good thing — and doesn’t look back.
Most of the kills in the movie are well done and Hamill, as expected, is terrifically creepy, especially as the doll goes to great lengths to wipe out anything that might interfere in he and Andy having fun. The script is well-written as well, all up until the third act, which suddenly devolves into that same, oddly-schlocky craziness that would fit much better in one of the older sequels. (And lest we forget the poorly executed police presence, which does nothing for the plot of the film.) Overall, though, the film does what it can to make you think twice about bringing anything into the house that has a computer chip.
Figuring out whether Annabelle Comes Home or Child’s Play should take the title as this year’s most malevolent doll is a toss-up. Both films have their highs and both have their lows, leading in the end to a relative draw for supremacy. (Which doesn’t matter much, as Woody, Buzz and Bo-Peep will knock them both out at the box office.)
My Grades: Annabelle Comes Home: B+; Child’s Play: B+
As a love letter to the Beetles, Yesterday provides as much love to the band’s genius as they do to the two leads; as a film, the what-if scenario of the Beetles (among a few other things) disappearing from existence except in the mind (and heart) of one person is a great concept with a nice, if not safe, love story at its core. A-
Next week, new movies include Spider-Man: Far From Home and Midsommar. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.