The very idea that a Conjuring universe exists makes me smile. Not because it’s some groundbreaking cinematic accomplishment. But because it’s a tightly focused, modestly budgeted, interconnected horror franchise built around two fantastic central movies. The spin-off films have been hit-or-miss but at least they have offered some interesting layers to the franchise as a whole.
“Annabelle Comes Home” is the third film in the Conjuring prequel series about the ugliest, creepiest porcelain doll ever put on screen. This installment begins on a high note with the franchise’s greatest assets, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their roles as paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. They don’t have big roles in the film but I absolutely love the chemistry between them.
It’s 1971 and the Warrens have taken possession of the Annabelle doll after identifying it as a conduit for malevolent spirits. Following a blessing ritual Annabelle is put in a glass case within their eerie room of evil artifacts. And surely a door with five locks and a big sign reading “DANGER!” is enough to keep the evil contained, right? Well, in a word…no.
Jump ahead one year as the Warrens prepare to head out for an overnight investigation into a new case. They leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) and the keys to their split-level home with their dependable babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) who is keenly aware of the house rules.
The same can’t be said for Mary Ellen’s pushy best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) who shows up to the Warren’s house uninvited and instantly begins snooping around where she shouldn’t. This provides the movie with its opening to introduce its horror elements. Horror movies have a track record of having really bad things happen thanks to really stupid actions. There is a bit of that with Daniela. But writer-director Gary Dauberman tosses in a story thread to give a meatier reason for what she is doing. It kinda works.
Motivations aside, Daniela finds a way into the Warrens’ no-no room and unleashes all sorts of terrifying apparitions. Most of the story unfolds over the course of that one night as the young ladies try to survive the usual stuff – convenient power outages, appliances mysteriously turning on, ghoulish spirits suddenly standing in the background, and an overactive fog machine.
Dauberman does a good job creating a spooky atmosphere which he leans on a bit too heavily. Most of the movie features all of the above mentioned horror gadgetry on repeat with practically nothing in the form of story progression. In many ways it reminds me of “The Nun” (which Dauberman also wrote). It was a movie rich with atmosphere but shallow when it comes to storytelling.
Much like “The Nun” this ends up being a spin-off film that never reaches the fullness of its potential. “Annabelle Comes Home” is a slight step up thanks to its better realized place within the franchise and closer connection to the two main Conjuring films. There is also some really good chemistry between the three young actresses which gives us good reasons to care for their characters. Unfortunately, despite offering moments of fun, the film doesn’t do much to push the franchise forward which leaves it feeling like a missed opportunity.
VERDICT – 3 STARS