When it comes to horror film franchises, sequels, prequels and reboots, it’s usually a case of diminishing returns as each “new” installment is released. But that’s not the case here. As it turns out, the first (Annabelle, 2014) was the worst. The prequel Annabelle Creation (2017) offered vast improvement, and now Annabelle Comes Home is the best yet.
The story takes place in the early 1970s, shortly after demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) have taken possession of a possessed toy that’s been blamed for numerous suspicious deaths. The Warrens (based on the actual couple who supposedly banished the ghosts from a certain house in Amityville, NY.) decide the safest place to stow the pig-tailed deathtrap dubbed Annabelle is in a special locked room in their own home. Just because Annabelle loves killing children and they have a 10-year-old daughter of their own… that’s no cause for concern, right?
Inevitably, The Warrens are called out of town on ghostbuster-duty and leave young Judy (McKenna Grace) in the care of her teenage babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s friend Daniella (Katie Sarife) and boyfriend Bob (Michael Cimino) come over, and pretty soon Annabelle is in killer-party mode.
The setup is simple enough. “DO NOT ENTER” warning signs are ignored, locked doors are opened, forbidden incantations are read, and bam! all Hell breaks loose. But that’s just the skeleton upon which fairly fleshed-out characters rest. Writer/director Gary Dauberman (he wrote the first two Annabelles, both IT movies, and, um… The Nun) creates believable enough motivations coming from places of grief, curiosity, and protectiveness. What’s the more, the actors ably carry off an array of reactions ranging from horror to humor.
Annabelle Comes Home offers a bit of comic relief, but mostly it’s a full-scream-ahead haunted house horror movie with lots of suspense, dread, and tension. There are a couple of noise-induced jump jolts, but most of the scares are of the anxiety variety. (But little gore, in spite of its R-rating.) When the suburban Pandora’s Box is opened, it’s not only Annabelle that comes tumbling out: she’s got some pretty scary friends including eyeless apparitions, a malevolent werewolf (Douglas Tate), a horrific holy sister, a wicked wedding dress, and ambulatory body parts.
Slick cinematography by Michael Burgess offers depth, dimension, and deep, deep shadows. The nerve-jangling music, once again by The Conjuring universe fav Joseph Bishara, is note-perfect, and so is the understated but spot-on look and feel of the 70s period: lots of beige, shag carpet, wood paneling and pining love ballads spinning round-and-round on vinyl. Production designer Jennifer Spence and set decorator Lisa Son worked well together, while costumer Leah Butler busted out some corduroy and pointed collars, but thankfully didn’t dive into tie-dye territory.
While Wilson and Farmiga bookend this spine-tingler, Iseman and Grace carry it. They’re both excellent in the film and have believable chemistry as young ladies who genuinely like each other—and in the end, will risk their lives for one another. Don’t get me wrong; no one’s going to be thanking the Academy, but there’s something here beyond the usually paper-thin performances one might expect in a Summer movie about a demonic doll.
Annabelle Comes Home is a spirited, fast-paced, contained haunted house popcorn flick that delivers what it promises (and is superior to its current competition, Child’s Play). Worth seeing on the big screen for its chills and creativity.