Annabelle Comes Home (Gary Dauberman, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
Marking its seventh entry, The Conjuring cinematic universe is the little franchise that keeps on chugging along. Granted, not all of its films, especially the ones with the creepy doll Annabelle, have all been golden eggs, but the fact that they have been the primary source of spiritual horror for fans of the genre over the past six years is no slouch at all. Pre-dating the events of The Conjuring, Annabelle Comes Home takes place mere minutes after the end of the first Annabelle film. After confiscating the demonic doll for better safekeeping, controversial demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren lock up Annabelle in a room that is chock-full of possessed and haunted artifacts from past cases and is blessed by a priest weekly. Ed and Lorraine give their daughter Judy, played this time by The Haunting of Hill House’s McKenna Grace, the usual warning: “Never go into that room under any circumstances.” Judy is used to talks of demons, possessions, and all around spookiness, but not so the family babysitter and her friend.
Annabelle Comes Home is a fun spook house of horrors. The spinoffs of the original Conjuring films have always struggled to be interesting beyond their initial concepts: an evil doll or a demonic Catholic nun. Since the creators are adamant in keeping Annabelle away from moving and behaving like the killer doll Chucky of the Child’s Play series, producer James Wan and director Gary Dauberman finally throw audiences a bone and double down on the ghouls, specters, and ghosts.
The scares that you’ll find in Annabelle Comes Home (or “Annabelle 3”) aren’t the typical jump scares seen in the horrible horror movies that dumped at the beginning of the year. There are real, honest-to-God setups and payoffs to the ghouls that use the Warrens’ house to terrify the film’s three heroines. And McKenna Grace’s Judy and her babysitters, played by Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife, are sympathetic protagonists that are sorely missing in the Conjuring cinematic universe and the horror genre. These young women fall for the familiar tropes most horror characters find themselves in, but they share great comradery that endears them to us immediately.
The Conjuring cinematic universe is not a franchise without its duds. The Annabelle films themselves once started on weak footing. However, through persistence and the willingness to try new things, Annabelle Comes Home is an installment that has great scares that harken back to the horror of the original Conjuring.