What Annabelle Comes Home tells us about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The “cinematic universe” is a relatively new term in the world of film. It was seemingly birthed from the success of the initial run of Marvel origin movies, which would inevitably spawn a franchise that has broken world records. Much like box office successes in the past, it has been the goal of every studio to try and replicate that outcome. The result has been a mixed bag of properties that have been generally panned, leading many to question whether it is possible to repeat the success of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) in a different format.
And while so many action/sci-fi franchises have been scrambling, a modest horror director with a humble beginning has created a relative powerhouse of cinema. James Wan took his success from the original Saw film to become the next up-and-coming director with a shot at the big-time. Where other directors have failed in the past and fallen into obscurity for years, Wan nurtured his unique craft for fear into the Insidious franchise.
The success of that franchise was born from Wan’s eye for an original brand of mainstream horror that accentuates jump scares through atmospheric scores, nuanced foreshadowing, visuals on the periphery, and seamless shots with tight angles that engage the audience’s fight-or-flight response. This style reached its zenith with The Conjuring, which spawned numerous spin-offs and sequels. A sequel to one of those spin-offs was, of course, Annabelle Comes Home. This piece of the franchise pie is as good a variable as any to test the health of the James Wan Horror Universe.
Annabelle Comes Home continues the style of its predecessors by focusing on what it does well, which is essentially “ghost-directing” Wan’s vision of horror filmmaking. While Wan has moved more into a producing role for the universe he created, his cinematic fingerprint is evident in every film in the franchise.
Annabelle Comes Home achieves its goal of bringing the scares in an effective package, but the question remains ... is it growing stale? Much like the origin films of the MCU, the Wan Universe is subject to becoming repetitive, inevitably jading its audience. The once-appreciated foreshadowing now behaves more predictably. The outcome of the once-powerful seamless camera shots now feels expected. Annabelle Comes Home is one of several recent examples that the franchise is merely stepping sideways.
Could that be enough? And for how long? Right now, it doesn’t really matter. The low risk/high reward of the Wan Universe model allows for gambles to be taken more frequently and with less restraint.
Courtesy of IMDb (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
The Wan style of horror films has a similar structure to the MCU, but with one major difference: the Wan Universe lacks an endgame (literally and figuratively). While the MCU had Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet – which continually upped the stakes, budget, and global haul – it also gave the universe an “end.” We have yet to see what that “ending” will do to the MCU’s future goals (with the first step coming this next weekend with Spider-Man: Far From Home). But, on the other side, the Wan Universe lacks that constantly-intensifying structure, limiting the incentive for a viewer to see the stories or characters progress.
Instead, the Wan Universe relies solely on its style and homegrown horror icons to carry its box office numbers from film to film. This may limit any exponential growth, but it allows for a great deal of flexibility across films. The Wan franchise exchanges expectations for potential.
It’s important to note that financial success is relative. Where a Marvel movie has a budget of $170 million and a domestic haul of $260 million, a James Wan horror movie sees $100 million on a $20 million budget. While you won’t see the gaudy, record-breaking numbers of a blockbuster comic book movie, the low risk/high reward model of the James Wan Horror Universe has proven to be quietly stable and financially viable. Annabelle Comes Home has already pulled in $76 million globally on its $12-20 million budget.
The well on the Wan Universe hasn’t dried up just yet, despite a format that is becoming increasingly predictable. There still seems to be a few gallons of untapped potential in horror characters that are waiting to be unleashed (as Annabelle Comes Home on its own showcased a handful of new characters to invest in further). Yet, this franchise may end up being a silent barometer for struggles the MCU may eventually experience. But for now, the two can wade in their success.
Have you seen Annabelle Comes Home yet? If so, what do you think? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.