'Annabelle Comes Home' Early Buzz: That Killer Doll Returns For More

Gary Dauberman has been one of the key creative forces responsible for building out James Wan's extended Conjuring Universe. He wrote the first two Annabelle movies – the first of which was widely derided, but the follow-up was seen as a significant improvement. Dauberman also wrote the third entry, Annabelle Comes Home, and that new film also marks his directorial debut.

So how did he do? How does this latest Annabelle stack up against the previous entries? The first reviews have arrived, so read on to find out.

Annabelle Comes Home Early Buzz

The Annabelle doll was introduced in 2013's The Conjuring, but the films dedicated to that character have largely been telling their own stories separate from the main Conjuring saga. (Annabelle: Creation was a prequel, for example.) But now Dauberman is bringing the Conjuring Universe closer together by bringing paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) into the fold. Does that decision pay off? How are critics reacting to the new movie? Here are some excerpts from early reviews:

William Babbani at Bloody-Disgusting says that even though the new movie "indulges in extreme fan service," this film features characters who are "worthy of their own spin-off":

"...once the film gets going, and the nightmares are unveiled, it's a fast-paced and unnerving experience. The cinematography by Michael Burgess (The Curse of La Llorona) is moody and natural until the lights go out, and then he toys with that murk to maximum, frightening effect. Little details poke out of the void, as we search the corners for hints as to which of the ethereal silhouettes will attack our heroes next. It's a twisted thrill to watch the protagonists of a horror movie put all their energy into conquering their fears of one monster, only to have their legs pulled out from under them by a demon the likes of which we've never seen before."

Alyse Wax at ComingSoon calls it "easily the best film in the Annabelle franchise":

Annabelle Comes Homeis loaded with scares – and not just jump scares. There is an overall feeling of dread laced throughout the movie. Many of the scares come from other spirits – not Annabelle. It kind of feels like we are getting a preview of what the next handful of films in The Conjuring universe will be.

Eric Kohn at IndieWire goes one better, calling this the best Conjuring spin-off film, period:

Unlike the two-hour-plus "Conjuring" movies or the comparatively sprawling convent showdowns of "The Nun," the new movie basically jams the archetypes of a John Hughes teen comedy into a minimalist haunted scenario. While that's not enough to suppress the underlying gimmickry of the storytelling, "Annabelle Comes Home" at least manages to charm and frighten its way through the purest distillation of the "Conjuring" formula to date.

Courtney Howard at FreshFiction.TV also found a lot to like:

Perhaps what's most effective in ANNABELLE COMES HOME isn't necessarily the alluring terror, but the layered characters to which we grow attached. Otherwise, the frights would be meaningless. Though the film is bookended by the beloved married couple, demonstrating their loving bond and abilities, the middle is a female-centric storyline with fairly dynamic heroines.

Joelle Monique at GeeksOfColor says this film "proves the Conjuring franchise still has plenty of stories to tell" and appreciated the way its female characters were treated:

Annabelle Comes Home does its best to move around the tropes women are typically boxed into in slasher films. Daniela plays more reckless than promiscuous. Having recently lost her father, she blames herself for the accident that took his life. The artifact room provides Daniela with the chance to speak to her dad. The film never punishes her for her curiosity beyond the consequences anyone else in the house suffers. Mary Ellen is allowed to be both innocent and a fierce defender. She faces every freaky monster head on. Though a love interest lives around the corner, he doesn't exist to protect the girls. In fact, he's terrified and barely manages to keep himself safe.

Andy Crump at Paste Magazine praised the movie for knowing what type of film it should be and executing that vision with panache:

Think of Annabelle Comes Home as a bite-sized version of The Cabin in the WoodsThirteen Ghosts and The Haunted Mansion all rolled into one and made with the same slick Conjuringaesthetic. There's not much to the film outside of ghoulish amusements; refreshingly, Judy's struggles have nothing to do with being haunted but with living a haunted life. Dauberman understands how death isolates people who have experienced it from people who haven't. This isn't a movie in search of a greater meaning. It just needs to be entertaining. But it does both, and better still, it bothers to be creative.

Similarly, Michael Rougeau at Gamespot appreciated how the movie embraced its identity without trying to reinvent the wheel:

Annabelle Comes Home is hopelessly predictable, but that's not a bad thing here. Like the rest of the Conjuring series, it's simply incredibly well made horror movie comfort food. It doesn't challenge your expectations or throw in any shocking twists; it simply sets up various monsters, ghosts, ghouls, and other threats, throws them at the characters, and relishes in their terror. The centrifuge of its setting is a literal room full of evil objects–what else could it be besides Night at the Conjuring Museum?

Variety's Owen Gleiberman didn't like the film, but he seems to have largely gotten bogged down in the story's mythology:

If this movie had been made several decades ago, Annabelle would likely have been a female Chucky, a demon figurine wreaking violent havoc. But the film's annoyingly arcane premise demands that the audience understand that Annabelle is not, herself, possessed. No way! "The doll was never possessed," a character declares. "It was used as a conduit!" What this means is that Annabelle, even though she's portrayed as a dark and dangerous devil doll, isn't coming to life. She's channeling the spirits around her, acting as a lightning rod for evil. Do you get the distinction? I actually think I do. Do you care? I think I couldn't care less.

Benjamin Lee at The Guardian is another reviewer who didn't care for the movie, and this paragraph sums up why:

What I often find frustrating about films in the Conjuring universe is the disparity between what's initially promised and then what's ultimately delivered. As well-budgeted and slickly directed studio horror pics, they're a striking rarity and I admire how they lean into the style of the era they're set in. Annabelle Comes Home is no different, with care employed in its period recreation, as firmly rooted in the specificities of the 60s as something carrying far more prestige. But once the initial foreplay is over, teasing a stylish and substantive alternative to its more simple-minded genre peers, it falls into the same old routine. There's a handsome framework but nothing at its centre, a script that quickly eschews anything resembling a plot, choosing to bombard us with cheap funhouse trickery instead.

Here's the movie's official synopsis:

Determined to keep Annabelle from wreaking more havoc, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren bring the possessed doll to the locked artifacts room in their home, placing her "safely" behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest's holy blessing.  But an unholy night of horror awaits as Annabelle awakens the evil spirits in the room, who all set their sights on a new target—the Warrens' ten-year-old daughter, Judy, and her friends.

Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, and Katie Sarife join Wilson and Farmiga in this cast, and Annabelle Comes Home will try its best to spook audiences when it hits theaters on June 26, 2019.