Now, not all spirits are evil, but some of them are very, very bad. For this reason, Annabelle is the most dangerous thing in the Warrens’ collection. Because attempting to destroy the doll will only make everything worse, the Warrens seal her in a consecrated glass box with a sign instructing anyone who somehow gets into their room of cursed objects to never, ever let her out. Obviously, that warning isn’t heeded.
The Warrens go out of town for the night leaving their 10-year-old daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) in the hands of her babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). She’s a trustworthy girl so the Warrens should have nothing to worry about, right? Wrong! Mary Ellen’s best friend Daniella (Katie Sarife) drops by in the early evening and she seems very curious about what’s in that room. A series of mostly predictable events leads to Annabelle being unleashed and boom: it’s a ’70s-era teen horror movie.
While previous Annabelle movies have stumbled over complicated, murky plots about a demonic entity whose motivations are mostly unclear—aside from its unending quest to collect human souls—Annabelle Comes Home is simple. The house itself is haunted because it’s full of haunted stuff, intentionally placed there by adults who investigate hauntings. The characters can’t just run away screaming for multiple reasons, but they’re also not entirely uninformed about the paranormal. While the entire plot is predicated on one person doing something really stupid, the film explains her motivations.
This clear-cut plotting is welcome in a franchise where I’m still wondering why anyone thought this doll was a totally normal thing to make or own in the first place. I mean, look at it! And remember how in Cabin in the Woods, the basement was also full of haunted things just waiting to be activated? Thanks to Annabelle’s beacon status, this film is like that if the characters had managed to activate all of them at once.
The spooky stuff comes on slow—perhaps too slow, even. Once it all ramps up, however, there are some genuinely creative and beautifully shot scares. The myriad entities allow for each character to have their moment while simultaneously setting up possible sequels, a la The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona, and the forthcoming The Crooked Man.
As in previous Conjuring films, the best scares are the subtle ones that build in layers of increasing dread, while the CGI terrors are bigger, but not necessarily better. My favorite scare is a seemingly innocent object that you realize is going to be bad news later on and when it pays off, you’re not sure if you should laugh or hide.
Annabelle Comes Home is still spooky in all the ways fans of the series expect, but it also features a kind of levity — particularly when it comes to the ordeal of Bob (Michael Cimino),a kindhearted teenage neighbor who has a crush on Mary Ellen and is hoping to use this opportunity to ask her out — not typically found in its sinister siblings.