If you had told me years ago that the Annabelle film series would end up being some of the best times I’ve had watching supernaturally infused tales on the big screen, I never would have believed you. And yet, here we are. While I’m not really a big fan of the original Annabelle, I thought David F. Sandberg did a brilliant job of getting the burgeoning franchise back on track with his origin story, Annabelle: Creation, centered around the titular doll’s beginnings.
Now, with Annabelle Comes Home, first-time director (but longtime writer and producer of both The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona) Gary Dauberman gets to show us what he’s made of with this third Annabelle movie that not only does right by the cinematic legacy of the popular otherworldly doll, but also manages to deliver up an experience akin to getting lost inside a thrill-a-minute haunted house, resulting in not only a great Annabelle film, but also one of the best movies so far in the ever-expanding Conjuring universe.
Annabelle Comes Home picks up with Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) picking up the notorious Annabelle doll to bring her back home to their artifacts room, which is tucked away behind a locked door where it is expressly written that no one should enter. Sometime later, the Warrens are called to duty for the weekend, leaving their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of her thoughtful and caring babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), who isn’t phased by the reputation of the Warrens whatsoever. Her best pal, Daniela (Katie Sarife), decides to invite herself to stay over to keep Mary Ellen and Judy company, but as their curiosity about the work that the Warrens do, as well as just what is locked behind the doors of the artifacts room, gets the best of them, Annabelle finds a way to unleash hell on the trio of young women, making their weekend together memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Whereas the last installment in the Annabelle series was a bit more severe and dread-filled, Annabelle Comes Home feels like Dauberman (who also wrote the script along with taking on directing duties here) was looking to have a little bit of fun by unleashing an onslaught of spooks, creepy creatures, and a few appearances from the creepy-as-always Annabelle doll. When we did the set visit last year, it was mentioned that the intent for this latest sequel was to create a horror-fied version of Night at the Museum, and Dauberman achieves just that, making Annabelle Comes Home the most fun I’ve had with a genre film this year so far.
That being said, the stakes in Annabelle Comes Home are admittedly very low, as the point of the film is not amassing a huge body count or anything like that, which is something I’m not sure how fans will feel about. But for me, I was more in it for the ride itself, and I think Dauberman has done a great job of tapping into what makes Annabelle such a dangerous entity and how horror movies can just be about having fun every now and again. Plus, Gary utilizes a freaking werewolf for a few of Annabelle Comes Home’s key scares, and honestly, just getting a werewolf in a mainstream horror movie these days is enough to make me a happy camper in itself, so I was already completely smitten with this story once I realized that we were going to get some lycanthropic action in this third Annabelle movie.
The performances in Annabelle Comes Home are really strong, too, with Grace stealing the show as the tender-hearted Judy Warren. I also liked both Iseman and Sarife as well, and there’s a secondary character named Bob (Michael Cimino) who is an absolute delight, and there's a whole sequence involving him inside a chicken coop that left me with a massive grin on my face.
Truth be told, I’m still baffled that Annabelle Comes Home is rated R, as there is minimal bloodshed, hardly any foul language, and the violence isn’t all that severe, either, making it the perfect outing for younger audiences to enjoy just as much as us horror aficionados who just can’t get enough of the spooky stuff. Dauberman should be really proud of what he’s achieved with his first time at bat as a director, though, as it feels like he’s crafted something very special and made a filmic treat for those of us who have been following The Conjuring films from the very beginning (there are TONS of Easter eggs peppered throughout Annabelle Comes Home, so be sure to keep an eye out for some very fun, but subtle, payoffs here).
Movie Score: 4/5