Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Possess Them All
The ever-growing haunted mansion that is James Wan’s Conjuring Expanded Universe gets another room added to it in the form of this fin, almost friendly supernatural romp, which takes the focus off of husband and wife demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), and instead puts their daughter, Judy (Mckenna Grace), front and center.
Poor Judy — already ostracized at school because her folks are, well, a couple of controversial ghost hunters, she’s stressed about whether anyone will show up to her upcoming 11th birthday party, and she seems to have inherited her mother’s gift of second sight. Things really get rough when, while her parents are out of town and she’s being cared for by babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), the evil doll Annabelle (which is being kept in the Warren’s artifact room) is let out of her protective glass case by Mary Ellen’s curious, uninvited friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife).
It’s not really Daniela’s fault — she’s grieving for her dead dad and clutching at spiritual straws — how was she to know that Annabelle is actually a locus of horrifying supernatural evil. We, the audience, know, of course — the creepy porcelain nightmare (the ‘real’ Annabelle was a stock-standard Raggedy Anne doll, by the way) attracts evil spirits, as well as being home to a malicious demon itself. Since Daniela not only unleashed it but also managed to wind up all the little demonic knickknacks in the Warrens’ morbid museum, the stage is set for a night of frights.
Well, fairly mild frights — Annabelle Comes Home is a very PG-13 horror flick, when you get right down to it — impressively assembled by debut director Gary Dauberman (co-writer of The Nun (2018), It (2017), and a host of other horrors), atmospheric, spooky, and with some well-crafted set pieces and jump scares, but remarkably bloodless. This is the sort of film that might make a good first horror flick for a curious ten-year-old — it doesn’t hold back on scares, but it probably won’t scar them for life.
Part of the charm is that the film takes it as read that everything the Warrens investigated and all the relics they’ve accumulated are real, and taking something of a Goosebumps (2015) approach (or The Cabin in the Woods (2011) if you’re too cool for Goosebumps) by letting loose a number of ghostly threats for the cast to contend with. So while Judy is menaced by Annabelle and Daniela’s locked in the trinket room dealing with all kinds of horrible nonsense, mainly having to fend off a new entity, The Bride, which inhabits a cursed bridal gown, Mary Ellen is forced to confront a coin-collecting phantasm called The Ferryman, and her would-be boyfriend, the hapless Bob (Michael Cimino), is stuck outside where he’s stalked by the werewolf-like Black Shuck (and might we add, that’s a mighty fine looking werewolf).
It’s all giddy good fun, and the cast commits fully to the goofy, ghoulish premise. Young Mckenna Grace ought to be an old hand at this sort of thing by now — not only was she the young Sabrina Spellman in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) and the young Theo in The Haunting of Hill House (2018), she also recently featured in a TV movie remake of The Bad Seed (2018) and yet another Amityville movie, Amityville: The Awakening (2017). She’s a regular Jamie Lee Curtis.
A strong sense of playfulness and atmosphere, and the occasional inspired gag — especially the bit with the movie projector — carry the day. This is a brisk, effective, rather comforting teen horror pic. It probably won’t knock your socks off, but fans will have a frightfully fun time, and kids will enjoy the vicarious thrills and chills, too.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Travis Johnson