The best thing about evil possessed doll movie Annabelle Comes Home is that it isn’t about an evil possessed doll. In fact, as Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren points out at the start of the movie, Annabelle isn’t possessed at all – she’s just a conduit that attracts other spirits, who sometimes move the doll around so it looks like possession. What this means for the third part in the Conjuring spin-off series – which is also chronologically the third, unlike Annabelle: Creation, which was a prequel to the initial prequel – is that a whole menagerie of new spooks can be introduced.
What results is a lively ghost train of a movie that’s funnier and sweeter than any film in the Conjuring universe so far. Okay, so there’s not much plot to speak of, but for a teen-friendly Friday night flick, Annabelle Comes Home is a blast.
Set some time after the opening scenes of The Conjuring where the Annabelle doll is put into the case (but before the main events of The Conjuring), the Warrens are heading out of town for the night leaving their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen is a wholesome type but her slightly naughtier friend Daniela (Katie Sarife), who’s grieving the death of her father, pops round to join her mate in the Warren’s spooky old house.
Hoping to make a connection with her dead dad, Daniela unwisely ventures into the Warren’s artefact room, a miniature museum of haunted, cursed and ritualistically significant items that the ghostbusting couple has gathered over the years. There she spies the doll and foolishly lets her out…
Annabelle Comes Home takes place over one night as the three girls are terrorised by a host of demonic apparitions. Annabelle herself is moved around the house for some shock scares, but thankfully this really isn’t her movie. Instead Annabelle Comes Home playfully sets up subjects that could conceivably keep the Conjuring series in spin-offs for decades to come. A haunted wedding dress, a hell hound, “The Ferryman”, a ghostly priest, an anxious-looking monkey or our personal favourite, the pervily named ‘Feeley Meeley’ tabletop game, could all provide material for Conjuring Universe films that would likely be way more fun than The Nun or The Curse Of La Llorona.
And we’re happy to report that Annabelle Comes Home is certainly more entertaining than both. Still fairly reliant on jump scares, Comes Home opts for a tone that’s more reminiscent of The Goonies and Poltergeist (though it’s obviously not as good as either), or indeed a horror version of Night At The Museum.
Focusing on the three girls – with an adorable supporting turn from Michael Cimino as Mary Ellen’s potential love interest Bob – the Warrens themselves only feature as bookends. The movie is better for it, but the fact that the three girls are often in separate parts of the house being scared by different nasties, and there’s no plot or mystery to unfold, does mean it’s quite repetitive and does eventually start to drag.
Not as scary as Annabelle: Creation, but far better than the dreadful Annabelle, Comes Home is a fun but minor addition to the canon that benefits from throwing the “it’s all definitely real” gubbins out the window.
First-time director Gary Dauberman, who’s a frequent horror scripter with credits on It: Chapter One and Two as well as many of the Conjuring movies, has an eye for imagery, a strong sense of horror beats and gets the best out of his young cast. Annabelle Comes Home also manages to be quite moving. Not necessarily a first for the Conjuring universe – The Conjuring 2’s Maurice Grosse bits tugged at the heartstrings – but this might be the first time these films have elicited happy emotions for pure sweetness.
After The Nun and La Llorona, it looked like the wider Conjuring universe had let standards drop. Annabelle Comes Home is far from a masterpiece, but it does at least indicate the franchise can branch out tonally and stylistically rather than purely relying on one jump scare after another and the inherent unpleasantness of a gross, but ultimately ineffectual doll. Worth a look while we wait for Feeley Meeley: The Movie.
Annabelle Comes Home opens in UK cinemas on 10 July.