The latest film to be spun off from the lucrative The Conjuring
franchise, and the second one to hit screens this year, Annabelle Comes Home
is a pleasant surprise, as it's probably the best of the three Annabelle
movies so far. Writer-director Gary Dauberman (who has written the previous two films, and is making his directorial debut with this) takes a simple premise and a single setting, and then manages to create a genuinely chilling atmosphere, and a fast-paced thrill ride tone once the infamous demonic doll starts unleashing hell on three unsuspecting young girls.
This time around, the action is set almost entirely within the confines of the suburban home that belongs to paranormal investigators, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). The opening 15 minutes of the film displays how the Warrens first encountered the evil Annabelle doll. Some of this we saw in the first Conjuring
movie, but this movie expands upon it, creating a tense scene built around their car breaking down on their ride home with the doll in the back seat. This may lead you to think that this will be a main entry in the franchise that focuses on them, but Ed and Lorraine exit the movie shortly after, as they have to leave on business, and leave their 10-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of teenage babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). The plan is for both girls to enjoy a quiet evening at home baking a cake for Judy's birthday. But obviously, that plan goes out the window fast.
Things kick off when one of Mary Ellen's friends, Daniella (Katie Sarife), shows up at the house uninvited. Daniella has the air of sarcastic detachment, but she has a past pain in her personal life that draws her to the Warren's house, and their line of work in the paranormal. She claims she just wants to hang out with Mary Ellen, but in reality, she hopes she can find the rumored locked off room within the house that contains objects possessed by spirits, so that she can get some answers for herself about what lies beyond in the afterlife. Daniella tracks down the key to the forbidden room, which contains the Annabelle doll locked away in a glass case, as well as other seemingly-everyday objects that apparently hold evil spirits. Naturally, the doll is the most evil object in the room, and finds a way to escape from its prison while Daniella is snooping about the room.
From there, the movie seldom lets up as it creates what is first a slow-burn tension, and then quickly escalates into an all-out thrill ride, as the Annabelle doll and the various other evil spirits locked away in that room are given free reign of the entire house, while the three young girls trapped within just try to survive. One key feature that makes the film work is the wide variety of evil spirits that it throws at its three heroines. Like I said, the Annabelle doll is not the only evil spirit that has been unleashed by Daniella's meddling. There's an evil wedding dress that turns anyone who wears it into a knife-wielding psycho, a possessed suit of armor from Ancient Japan, and even a TV that can show you horrifying visions. The house also becomes downright crowded with various evil spirits, including a decaying old Priest, wolves, and other demonic entities. The scares and ghoulish entities come pretty fast, yet Dauberman has also paced the film well so that it is successfully manic, instead of overkill.
Annabelle Comes Home
also genuinely works, because the three young actresses at its center are giving strong performances here. They're not just cogs in a massive machine who scream and constantly make bad decisions. I found myself caring about them, and they have a bit more personality than your usual horror heroine. The screenplay effectively makes Daniella more than the joking troublemaker she initially comes across, by having her tragic background drive part of the storyline, and giving it enough dramatic weight so that the audience can be involved. And even though the movie is shrouded mostly in darkness, cinematographer Michael Burgess makes the images vivid. There is no murkiness here, not even when the ominous fog starts rolling in outside, and seems to even permeate the house itself.
Compared to the Child's Play
remake, the other evil doll movie we got this summer, this one just feels a lot fresher and more intense. Yes, it's clearly a low budget cash in, but it's been made with a sense that the people involved actually wanted to make a generally creepy little movie, and in my mind, they have succeeded. It's the kind of film where you'll probably be laughing with your friends as you walk out of it, but when you get alone in your car afterward, you might take a quick glance in the backseat. You know, just to be sure.