Published Jun 26, 2019Annabelle Comes Home isn't much more than spooky funhouse nonsense, but that's all it needs to be — and for the third film in a spinoff franchise, that's pretty darn good.
One year after the events of Annabelle (but before the first Conjuring film), demon hunting power couple Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who light up the screen in the few scenes they're in) take the possessed doll home to their closet of haunted tchotchkes. Realizing Annabelle's incredible power for drawing in malevolent spirits, the Warrens lock her up in a glass case and make sure to stress the importance of never opening it to their preteen daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace, quickly becoming a pint-sized genre staple after her roles in Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and The Haunting of Hill House).
When the Warrens go away for the weekend shortly before Judy's birthday, they leave Judy in the care of her sweet babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and her mischievous best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife). When Daniela's curiosity about the world beyond gets the better of her, she accidentally unleashes Annabelle from her glass prison — and all the creepy horrors inside the Warrens' closet.
While the first act drags after a too-long setup and several tense moments that result in a lacklustre payoff, the film really revs up in its second act. The bulk of Annabelle Comes Home takes place within the Warrens' house, and we've never spent this much time with all their cursed objects before. It's fascinatingly unsettling to imagine what paranormal dangers lurk inside each relic, and a veritable carnival of ghosts and ghouls are unleashed upon Judy, Mary Ellen, Daniela and Mary Ellen's hapless crush Bob (Michael Cimino) as a result of Annabelle's meddling.
We're left with the question, though: when is this many ghosts too many ghosts? It's great to see the entire gang of ghouls in one movie, but it also means that we don't spend as much time with the cooler ones, like a homicidal bride, and a creaky old ferry man who steals the souls of the dead. But perhaps we'll see them in their own Conjuring franchise spinoff one day.
The films within the Conjuring universe favour visual horror rather than thematic, and their commitment to the '70s aesthetic is as admirable. Creaky old rocking chairs, bizarrely campy programs on fuzzy picture tube TVs, and vintage bells and doilies galore lend a dramatic flair to the proceedings, and allow for inventive scares that make great use of the set design. It feels like we've been placed squarely inside a haunted funhouse by way of Poltergeist, and it's what makes the jump scares fun instead of groan-worthy. By letting itself go nuts with the kaleidoscope of weirdness at the Warrens', Annabelle Comes Home lets itself breathe, laugh and jump instead of aiming for serious, stifling scares.