Annabelle is indeed the anomaly of The Conjuring universe based on the fictionalized life of paranormal couple, The Warrens. After making a harrowing debut back in The Conjuring, the evil porcelain doll was later lambasted for the faulty standalone movie back in 2014; however, its prequel, Annabelle: Creation (2017) bounces harder and provides a hell of a ride that makes this doll necessarily scary again. The third movie (this sub-franchise has surprisingly surpassed the core-franchise), Annabelle Comes Home written and directed by first-time director yet long-time Conjuring writer (the first two Annabelle movies & The Nun), Gary Dauberman, might not be as frightening as Creation but it’s undeniably the most fun.
Set a few years after the Annabelle (2014) and a couple of years before the first Conjuring, where the doll makes the first lasting impression, Comes Home brings the Annabelle doll to The Warrens’ Occult Museum. The story revolves around Judy Warren (McKenna Grace, replacing Sterling Jerrins who has portrayed the characters in the previous three Conjuring universe movies), the daughter of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). Given her parents’ reputation, Judy is alienated by her friends at school and, practically, everyone around her. Inheriting her mother’s psychic gift, Judy finds herself insecure living around people who do not want to be with her and spirits, ghosts, and demons who keep on observing her. Only Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), her babysitter, is willing to be her friend, albeit a duty.
Annabelle does not make explicit actions right away; it serves an even greater purpose. “It is a beacon for evil spirits,” Lorraine explains. Bringing the doll to a place where relics, cursed objects or haunted items are stored should simply be a call for disaster; therefore, the doll is locked in the glass cage where the infamous ‘Warning! Positively Do Not Open’ signage lies. In the very place, the homecoming as implied in the title begins to make sense. The occult museum is basically the main course of Comes Home and Annabelle, as Lorraine exclaims, becomes the beacon, or even better, the center-piece.
Similar to other Conjuring entries, the narrative revolves around grief—in this case, the self-blaming grief that leads Daniela (Katie Sarife), Mary Ellen’s friend to “infiltrate” the babysitting duty. The narrative trail is pretty formulaic: a grieving person conjures up some metaphysical being for consolation, but the whole process has gone wrong. The narrative is a little problematic at plain sight, but if we’re looking thoroughly, it’s actually highly effective. We might have anticipated any part of the plot that can go wrong, in this franchise, will go wrong. What we haven’t anticipated is that the conjuring gone wrong in the ghastly hall of fame and that’s how effective the simplistic plot is.
The setting gives leverage to Gary Dauberman in his directorial debut, making his direction seems confident. Dauberman confidently utilizes most aspects of the Warrens’ house as his playground. By the time the movie almost wraps the second act, we would have memorized the floor plan of Warrens’ manor; but, that doesn’t stop the director from making relentless horror spectacles blending small portions of conventional jump-scares techniques with bigger portions of well-choreographed, high-concept scenes. The third act will immediately remind you to Cabin in the Woods but with supernatural tendency. Scenes at the house museum are mostly astonishing. Dauberman will leave some cheap creaky floor or mirror/corner trick to accommodate the higher-concept spectacles, which include unleashing multiple evil spirits at once. You will remember it as ghost galore.
Learning from the franchise’s previous moves —which almost always spawn new entries from the side-creature or ghosts that make appearance in one of the movies (Annabelle is a product of such move along with The Nun and the upcoming Crooked Man), it’s almost as positively as saying that Comes Home is the beacon to it all. This movie will expand the universe even further to spawn at least half dozens of new horrors. While the narrative is all over the place, Annabelle Comes Home will be remembered as the high concept horror blockbuster which will spawn more entries to The Conjuring universe.