When you have a room filled with demonic artefacts, it’s only a matter of time before a variety of evil spirits are let loose. Such is the premise of Annabelle Comes Home. The seventh entry into The Conjuring Universe is a harmless, self-contained story, with sufficient thrills to keep viewers entertained. And though Annabelle Comes Home connects to characters of the Conjuring movies’, it still feels very episodic. Writer-director Gary Dauberman aims to provide a fun and wild night of terror and succeeds for the most part.
As the title suggests, Annabelle Comes Home involves the creepy titular doll being placed in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) unsettling artefacts room for safekeeping. Though the paranormal investigative couple only bookend the movie, I deeply enjoyed every second they graced the screen. Even in limited screen time, they are still two of the most likeable characters in any horror movie, and they help ground the stories. But in this film, the couple leaves on an investigation and we follow their daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace), being babysat by Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife). Everything goes smoothly until Daniela sneaks into the Warren’s artefact room – attempting to speak with her dead father – and accidentally releases Annabelle out of her protective glass case. And with the Warren’s away, (multiple) past terrors come out to play.
There is a little backstory and characterization for the three girls, although, it’s mostly surface-level stuff. Judy is ostracized by her schoolmates because of her parent’s questionable profession and her inherited clairvoyant abilities. Daniela deals with the self-inflicted guilt over her Dad’s death, and Mary Ellen navigates a burgeoning attraction to a friend. Each storyline does have its payoffs and resolution, but they don’t get quite fleshed out enough. We understand the characters without fully investing in them since the movie mostly focuses on the terror inflicted by Annabelle over the course of the day/night.
The filmmakers smartly realize that there is only so much Annabelle alone can do, that we haven’t seen before. Subsequently, they have the doll release several other demonic presences. We are introduced to the Ferryman, deadly Samurai armour, a board game brought to life, an evil bride and a hellhound. Each spirit gets to inflict their own unique terrors upon the girls, helping keep the scares fresh. The Ferryman was particularly frightening, with his silver-coined eyes eerily lurking. However, there may be a few too many baddies in play. They’re all undoubtedly scary, but some feel under-developed. Instead of two or three memorable villains, we get several serviceable ones.
Annabelle Comes Home is also noticeably less emotional or atmospherically scary than previous entries in the series. Regardless, the movie makes the most of its simplistic plot and works well enough as a straightforward teen haunted-house story. It’s an enjoyable, spooky affair that doesn’t try to be more than it is. And the third act’s thrilling onslaught of evil spirits is a solid payoff. Admittedly, I’m frightened easily, but every jump scare got me. And to Dauberman’s credit, he does create some inventive frights. One involving a color projection wheel was exceptionally creative and nerve-wracking.
The lighter tone and more frequent (and sunny) daytime scenes offer a different – but welcome – look and feel from its predecessors. There are quite a few interjections of humor that work well to balance out the suspense and scares. The levity also suits the film’s younger characters and makes their interactions more watchable.
Despite some script issues, Annabelle Comes Home works as a satisfactory change in pace from the series’ other entries. Sure, the story and characters aren’t the strongest, but they do the job. Dauberman and company have crafted is a perfectly adequate teen horror flick. The numerous evil spirits provide the right amount of varied scares needed to keep viewers on edge. Meanwhile, the light touch of comedy and serviceable character beats hold the non-horror bits afloat. The series’ seventh instalment proves this creepy doll hasn’t outstayed her welcome just yet.