Directed by Gary Dauberman
Starring McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife
If you’ve ever wondered what a Conjuring movie crossed with the ending of The Cabin in the Woods would look like, then Annabelle Comes Home is right up your dark, spooky alley. As the film opens, husband and wife demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, appearing in what are essentially bookend-cameos) get stalled outside a creepy, fog-shrouded cemetery on their way home after taking the titular evil doll off the hands of the nurse roommates that, in turn, opened the first Conjuring movie. It is during this interlude, where a plethora of ghosts appears, that Lorraine comes to the conclusion that “the doll is a beacon for spirits.
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After the doll is enshrined in a case of blessed chapel glass, Annabelle Comes Home then goes about imagining a funhouse scenario where all the monsters get out. The Warrens’ daughter Judy (an empathetic McKenna Grace), a bit withdrawn because she has inherited her mom’s clairvoyant abilities, is conveniently left alone for a weekend with her wholesome babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and Mary Ellen’s kind-hearted but foolhardy friend Daniela (Katie Sarife). A few groan-inducing decisions later, plus an unexpected visit from Mary Ellen’s potential beau (Michael Cimino), and the kids are trapped in the house, getting terrorized by horrors as varied as a haunted samurai suit of armor, a cursed wedding dress, and—creepiest of all—an entity called The Ferryman, who doesn’t so much appear as get his presence announced by apparitions with coins placed over their eyes.
Gary Dauberman, who has either written or co-written all three of the Annabelle spin-offs, makes his directorial debut here. And he knows that six movies into the Conjureverse, the audience has wised up to every trick in the how-to-scare playbook. So he playfully subverts viewer expectations, setting up jump scares that don’t pan out and framing shots in ways that make you think ghosts are coming from one direction when they actually pop up from another. The continual sleight-of-hand forces you to scour every inch of the frame in anticipation, which works surprisingly well with the movie’s claustrophobic setting.
But you also get the sense that, while Annabelle Comes Home has an enthusiastic driver in Dauberman, the movie as a whole is spinning its wheels. Nothing new about the mythology of Annabelle is revealed, and at this point there really is nothing new to tell. Instead, the doll becomes a conduit for all-new ghouls that could conceivably star in their own spinoffs. (Thanks to Annabelle Comes Home, the Conjureverse now has a werewolf in its canon!) Annabelle is still a helluva entertainer, but she’s starting to feel inconsequential.
Photographs from Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.