FILM REVIEW – ANNABELLE COMES HOME. With Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife. Written and directed by Gary Dauberman. Rated R for horror violence and terror. 106 minutes.
The continued blurring of what was once a bright line between movies and television continues with ANNABELLE COMES HOME, the seventh film in “The Conjuring” universe series. It is the third to be released in less than year following “The Nun” (2018) and “The Curse of Llorona” (2019). They’re all related in some way to Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson), real-life investigators of the paranormal.
Spun off from well-received “The Conjuring” movies, with the third due out next year, the “Annabelle” movies are about an evil-looking doll which is a conduit for some demonic force. The Warrens keep the doll in a locked case, having ensured that the evil will be “contained.” (Don’t sweat the details. It’s summer and there’s no final exam.)
In this entry, the Warrens appear in a lengthy prologue and then disappear for much of the story. Instead, the focus is on their daughter Judy played by the very expressive McKenna Grace, who turns 13 this week. Everyone in town knows about the weird goings-on involving her parents, and that leaves her moody and unpopular at school. She’s close with her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) in whose care she has been left when the Warrens have to go out of town overnight. Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) stops by with a gift for Judy, which provides the opportunity for Daniela to go exploring the Warren’s locked room of cursed objects.
That’s the premise, and you know where it’s going: Daniela unlocks the case letting Annabelle loose, which ends up causing all sorts of horrific things including plans to consume Judy’s soul. Give writer/director Gary Dauberman credit. He provides his characters sufficient backstory and motivation that we’re not just watching cardboard cutouts battling special effects. Sarife’s Daniela is looking for trouble, but when we discover why she’s drawn to the forbidden powers the Warrens have locked up it actually makes her more sympathetic. There’s some comic relief as well, in the form of Bob (Michael Cimino), who has a crush on Mary Ellen that both are too shy to act upon.
Dauberman also knows how to tease the audience, sometimes setting things up for an expected scare that doesn’t happen. This is a much better effort than “Annabelle: Creation” (2017) in that it builds up its characters while keeping the horror plot fairly straightforward. There’s a touching scene at the end where Lorraine has a bonding moment with Daniela that may explain why audiences connect to these films more than some other shockfests. We actually come to care for the characters rather than simply see them as fodder for whatever the film’s horror turns out to be.
“Annabelle Comes Home” plays like a “special episode” of a TV series where the main characters step back and let the supporting players have the spotlight. If you’ve enjoyed the series, this will work, but beyond that it’s hard to see this entry winning new converts.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.