For the record, in case you’re wondering exactly where the new horror thriller Annabelle Comes Home fits into the whole Conjuring/Nun Universe, think of it this way: It doesn’t really matter. The stories that fictionalized the real-life cases of famed paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, were The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. From those two films sprung The Nun, the recent The Curse of La Llorona, and three spooky, inanimate doll movies, Annabelle (2014), the prequel Annabelle: Creation (2017) and now the sequel to the prequel, Annabelle Comes Home. And in case you were wondering, yes, there’s a third Conjuring feature set for next year, a Nun sequel, and another offspring from the same factory yet to be made, The Crooked Man.
The reason why trying to figure out where Annabelle Comes Home slots into this labyrinth of horror shouldn’t concern is simple: It’s a stand-alone film that needs no knowledge of previous events. It’s also the first in the series to feature the famous real-life paranormal investigators. The Warrens may have discovered the doll during the introductory segments of The Conjuring in 2013 but they’ve never appeared as characters in an Annabelle movie, until now.
As we’re told at the beginning, the creepy looking doll with the pigtails, the bulging eyes – one badly cracked – the little girlie Bad Seed bangs, and the alarming smile is not technically possessed. There are no evil spirits within. It’s a conduit. The dead and evil are attracted to it. For them, the doll is a pathway to get back into the real world. Which is why the practical Ed (Patrick Wilson) and the spiritually comforting Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) have arrived to collect it and to take it back to their home where it will be safely encased in a glass cabinet, locked away and left alone, taking its place among the several other evil artifacts that the couple have collected and squirreled away for our protection.
When asked why don’t they just burn the doll, Ed and Lorraine are quick to point out that destroying the toy would only make things worse. They don’t explain how, but for the sake of another adventure, we’ll have to take their word for it. “Nice doll,” states a cop on a routine stop when he spies Annabelle sitting upright on the back seat of the Warren’s car. “That’s what you think,” Ed replies.
Once locked away in the glass case, the one that reads Warning! Positively Do Not Open, and placed in the evil artifact room, things get back to normal. Temporarily. What soon develops is a night trapped in a haunted house, which is essentially what Annabelle Comes Home really is; a big screen ride in an elaborate haunted house meant principally for thrill-seeking teenage theme park ticket buyers.
After the first act which has the Warrens picking up the doll, explaining what it is and how it’s used to channel restless, evil spirits, then locking it away, the working paranormal couple exit the house, and the film, and leave things to their ten year old daughter Judy (McKenna Grace), the too-nosy-for-her- own-good school friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) and the cute blonde babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).
Since the Warrens have recently hit the newspapers with a story about their peculiar occupation, Daniela is left curious about those famous cursed artifacts locked away in that special room, the one she’s not supposed to enter. The room itself is actually on the first floor, but because you have to step down into it to enter, it feels as though it’s really the off-limits basement. Daniela finds the keys, enters the forbidden room and explores. Among the several collector’s pieces on dusty shelves, there’s a haunted typewriter, an out of tune piano, a film projector, and that annoying wind-up monkey that bangs cymbals and grins. Daniela touches and disturbs them all. But it’s the dolly in the corner that captures her attention, the one locked in the glass cabinet that relentlessly stares and is almost begging to be set free, the one that sits in a cabinet where the words Positively Do Not Open are plastered across the window. Daniela finds the key and opens it.
“Sometimes I see things like my mom sees things,” explains young Judy after sensing that she, her friend Daniela, and Mary Ellen the babysitter are no longer alone in the house. After admitting that she opened Annabelle’s cabinet, Daniela has to explain what else she touched and disturbed in the artifact room. “Everything,” she replies.
From there, the three girls, plus a young boy from school called Bob (Michael Cimino) who has a crush on the babysitter – his running joke of a nickname, Bob’s Got Balls, has something to do with his after-school job at the bowling alley – spend the night together fighting off ghosts, ghouls, a deadly bride with a knife, even a demon with horns, while battling the on-again-off-again batteries of a flashlight. And it all takes place within the confines of the Warren house until the youngsters can finally grab that doll and safely put it back in its glass case and restore order.
If you have to know where the film fits in the timeline, it’s 1971, somewhere between The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, and there’s a good design of the period. Badfinger’s Day After Day spins on the turntable, Dancing in the Moonlight is on the soundtrack, plus young Bob strangles an acoustic version of Bread’s Everything I Own when he tries to romantically woo the babysitter from the front yard below the bedroom window. Plus there’s a glimpse of The Dating Game on an early TV set where the colors back then appeared to bleed into each other on the screen at the edges.
Ultimately, Annabelle Comes Home possesses little plot; it sets things up then lets the ride begin. It’s simply a creepy outing for the young crowd, a teenage date night with some occasional scares, plenty of atmospheric fog outside, and several moments that shriek ‘Boo!’ to make you easily jump. Given the gravitas the Conjuring world can have when aware that the conflicts the Warrens faced in previous outings were purportedly based on things that were in their real-life files, Annabelle Comes Home feels considerably more lightweight. It’s not much of a story, and it adds nothing to enhance the series in any meaningful way, plus you could talk all night about the illogical behavior of its principal players, but why bother? At least it is fun.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 100 Minutes