Annabelle Comes Home is the third spin-off featuring the possessed doll from the first few minutes of the first The Conjuring film. THE THIRD. Let that sink in…
The original Annabelle was underwhelming to say the least. That’s why when I saw Annabelle: Creation, I was caught off guard by how much fun I had with it. Then came word from producer James Wan that the third entry would take place inside the home of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (as portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) and spotlight a number of spirits from their infamous collection of cursed artifacts. Wan pitched the project as “Night at the Museum with Annabelle” and my expectations immediately shot up to the highest they’d ever been for an Annabelle film (though that’s not saying much).
Much to my delight, I walked out of the theater largely having had a good time with this film and its charming leading ladies. For most of its runtime, Annabelle Comes Home is a creatively crafted and unexpectedly funny haunted house ride. It’s when the final act rolls around that things start to slow down rather than pick up.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are pure delights as the Warrens in both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. The couple make brief appearances here, mostly to set up the story of Annabelle Comes Home by bringing the Annabelle doll to their house for safe keeping. On their way back from a routine investigation, the Warrens learn that the doll is a beacon for other spirits. To prevent it from drawing too much unwanted otherworldly attention, the doll is blessed and locked behind consecrated chapel glass inside the Warrens’ occult museum.
Jump forward one year: Ed and Lorraine are going away overnight and in their stead have arranged for their babysitter Mary Ellen (Maddison Iseman) to look after their young daughter Judy (McKenna Grace). It’s a harmless enough proposition until Mary Ellen’s nosy friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) catches wind of the Warrens’ day job and invites herself to touch any and all of the accursed tokens in the Warrens’ back room while they’re out of town. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself hollering at the screen as I did:
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“DON’T TOUCH THAT!”
“THERE ARE SIGNS EVERYWHERE, CAN’T YOU READ?”
Admittedly, Annabelle Comes Home doesn’t work without somebody making some of the dumbest decisions in all of horror (something the film itself seems to wink at with a couple lines of dialogue: “What else did you touch?” “Everything!”) Fortunately, writer/director Gary Dauberman gives Daniela a heartfelt reason for doing what she does.
Before that point, however, Mary Ellen and Daniela don’t make a great first impression. I instinctively rolled my eyes during their first scene together as they seemed to be settling into the stereotypical roles of teens in a horror movie: Mary Ellen the innocent bookworm and Daniela the pushy parasite who’s more than willing to blackmail her bestie into getting her way.
On the other hand, I was completely taken by McKenna Grace (The Haunting of Hill House) from minute one. As Judy Warren she’s profoundly intelligent for her age, fiercely strong willed and heart-meltingly sweet, even while struggling to come to terms with her unique ability to see the dead among living people.
When the three girls get together is when we start learning a little bit more about each of them and they start defying those horror movie character tropes and taking on identities more or less their own. Their bond only strengthens after coming face to face with the evils Annabelle unleashes. At the same time, I felt compelled to root for them to make it through the night in one piece.
As for these “evils,” they aren’t anything we haven’t seen some version of before in a previous Conjuring universe film and that’s by design. Annabelle Comes Homes is a celebration of the series up to this point. Whether it’s setting up some creepy, new ghoul for a potential spin-off of its own or blatantly referencing past events, this Annabelle is convinced that its viewers adored the previous seven films in this franchise and at times seems to be nudging us with its shoulder and a glint in its eye saying “Remember all the fun we’ve had together?”
The near constant reminding of past thrills only got to be a problem in the third act, when Annabelle Comes Home shockingly starts dragging its heels. I should have been close to falling out of my seat in sheer panic, but rather I found myself checking the time on my phone and wishing instead that I was watching The Conjuring or even Annabelle: Creation. It was especially disappointing because Dauberman shows he can craft exciting and imaginative scares.
Lastly, I mentioned earlier how funny Annabelle Comes Home is. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t quite the horror comedy that the recent Child’s Play remake is, but there are a handful of genuine laughs. Many of them involved a neighborhood boy named Bob (Michael Cimino). Bob isn’t given much to do here, but he does carry one gag in particular that had me in stitches.
Annabelle Comes Home isn’t the stupefying triumph of Creation, but its main characters are similarly charming and Gary Dauberman makes innovative use of his single location.
⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 (out of five)
Have you had a chance yet to check out Annabelle Comes Home? If so, what’d you think? If not, is it even on your radar? Jump down to the comments below and let me know what you’re thinking about this movie!