annabelle comes home review

At some point, the ghost-chasing Warrens might want to consider getting rid of all that spooky stuff they have locked away in the spare bedroom. As played memorably by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, the couple – based very loosely on real-life paranormal investigators – were first introduced to movie audiences with 2013’s superior haunted house flick The Conjuring. In that ghost adventure, we got our first glimpse of the Warrens’ artifacts room, loaded floor to ceiling with seemingly innocuous objects that are far more dangerous than they look. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were being set-up.

This room, with its many terrifying tchotchkes, was the breeding ground for an entire cinematic universe. Each of the items in this room has a story to tell – and the so-called Conjuring Universe is thrilled to tell them to willing audiences. Which brings us to Annabelle Comes Home, the latest installment in the franchise that practically turns the artifacts room into a supporting character.

The third entry in the Annabelle series kicks-off back at the start of The Conjuring, when Ed and Lorraine Warren get their hands on the hideous eponymous doll, an object that serves as a kind of supernatural lighthouse calling towards ghosts and ghouls. The doll itself isn’t your typical scary doll – it doesn’t get up on its tiny little doll legs and run around like Child’s Play‘s Chucky. But whenever Annabelle is around, bad stuff happens. Really bad stuff.

So, like any sane parent would, the Warrens bring the thing home, where they live with their ten-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace, one of those child actors who seems much older than her age). A brooding weirdo destined to grow-up to be Lydia Deetz, Judy has trouble making friends. It’s not easy when you’re the only kid in school with ghost-hunting parents. On top of all that, Judy has inherited her mother’s psychic abilities, and is able to spot ghosts when no one else can.

After an opening sequence that makes the film seem like the third Conjuring sequel rather than the third Annabelle adventure, Annabelle Comes Home promptly turns into a mixture of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and Poltergeist. The paternal Warrens hit the road, leaving Judy in the care of her chipper babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman, likable and refreshingly normal). Mary Ellen’s best pal Daniela (Katie Sarife, feisty and funny) shows up, too, setting the stage for a party atmosphere. The grown-ups are away! Time to get wild! And by “get wild” I mean “summon a bunch of screaming ghouls.”

While Mary Ellen is down-to-earth and has some common sense, Daniela is obsessed with the Warrens’ supernatural shenanigans – primarily because she wants to contact her dead father. Which means she promptly ignores all the rules, heads into the creepy artifacts room, touches literally everything, and sets Annabelle loose in the process. Now free to do whatever she wants, Annabelle summons a whole rogues gallery of things that go bump in the night, all of whom you can safely assume will get their own spin-off movies. Everyone is likely to have their favorite (there’s a freakin’ werewolf here, folks!), and I’m no exception. My fave is the Ferryman, a kind of demonic serial killer with glowing coins for eyes. Talk about creepy.

It’s bad form to explain the entire story of a movie in a review, but I fear I’ll have to make an exception for Annabelle Comes Home, because…well…that’s it. There’s nothing else to this. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie so content to be about absolutely nothing. I should be repulsed, but I can’t help but appreciate the audacity. There’s something refreshing about a handsome-looking horror film that has no grand aspirations.

Annabelle Comes Home is the cinematic equivalent of a carnival haunted house. When we hand over our tickets to a carny making below minimum wage, and traipse through the darkness to be affronted by phony phantasmagoria popping out of blind spots, we get a thrill. We scream, we laugh, then we get the hell out of there, and never think twice about what we just saw. That’s Annabelle Comes Home. The line-up of creatures allows the film to have poor Judy, Mary Ellen and Daniela enter one room after another in the Warren home, and confront some new terror – a blood-splattered bride brandishing a butcher knife is particularly effective. There’s a haunted TV, too. Because of course there is.

Should we want more from this movie? From this franchise? Or should we be content with the cheap thrills and chills? Should we hand our ticket over just like at that carnival haunt, enter the darkness, and then come out the other side laughing and a little shook up – only to immediately let that feeling go? Perhaps we should. Perhaps that’s enough.

To be fair, while Annabelle Comes Home is a mentally empty movie, it’s not a cheap one. I’m not talking budget. I’m talking style. Gary Dauberman, who penned the scripts for several other Conjuring films, makes his directorial debut here, and he doesn’t skimp on the gloom and doom aesthetic. Here is the type of movie where every room is bathed in darkness, even if all the lights are on. One genuinely scary moment arrives early, when Dauberman lets the camera slowly pan around a shadowy room, watching as the scary bride floats by several windows in dim daylight.

Annabelle Comes Home does its job. It elicits fear. It brings a scream to your lips. It makes you jump in your seat nestled in an air conditioned movie theater. A smarter script with more to say might’ve been a feast worth dining on, but there’s nothing wrong with a calorie-wasting junk food snack like this now and then. You’ll leave the movie satisfied, and then you’ll probably forget all about it. Until the next curse object in the artifact room gets its own spin-off, that is.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net