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With: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Michael Cimino
Written by: Gary Dauberman, based on a story by James Wan
Directed by: Gary Dauberman
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence and terror
Running Time: 106
Date: 06/26/2019
IMDB

Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wrecking Doll

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Annabelle Comes Home is not only the third Annabelle movie; it's also the seventh in what's now called The Conjuring Universe.

Released in 2013, the first film in this franchise, The Conjuring, was based on the real-life Warrens, Lorraine and Ed, who were paranormal investigators. (Lorraine died this past April at the age of 92.)

So Annabelle Comes Home, stalking back and forth as it does along the line of "true story" and "fiction," ought to be assessed as its own film, and as part of that franchise.

Happily, on its own, the movie is a serviceable, solid scarefest. It begins, timewise, more or less after the events of The Conjuring. (To complicate matters, the second film, Annabelle: Creation, takes place before the first film, Annabelle. This one comes after both.)

Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) collect the doll, and bring it home to their secret, locked room full of cursed and haunted artifacts. Annabelle gets a place of honor, sealed in a blessed glass box.

Then, some time later, they head out for another job, leaving their young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the hands of capable babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).

Given that Judy is an outcast at school, largely because of her parents' ghoulish occupation, but also because she seems to have inherited at least some of her mother's clairvoyance. And, because no kids will be coming to Judy's party, Mary Ellen plans an early birthday celebration for her.

Meanwhile, Mary Ellen's less-responsible friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) shows up. In typical horror movies, Daniela is the kind of character that goes poking around where she shouldn't be, simply because she's not afraid and doesn't believe in ghosts.

Thankfully, here, Daniela turns into the most interesting character. She does indeed have a reason for poking around in the Warrens' secret room. And there is a reason that Annabelle gets loose and begins wreaking havoc.

Screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who contributed to various entries in this series (Annabelle, The Nun) as well as the recent Stephen King adaptation It, makes his directing debut here, and it's a surefooted piece of work.

Creator James Wan, who directed the two Conjuring films, seems to have set up a specific template for the way the films move, a certain dedication to three-dimensional space, spare cutting, and plenty of rhythmic sleight-of-hand. The usual "bang!" jump-scares are infrequent, and sound and music are extraordinarily unsettling.

Dauberman dutifully follows this template to excellent effect. Annabelle Comes Home is definitely scary, from a sequence in which a blood-spattered-bride circles a room to one in which Daniela watches images of herself on a haunted TV set.

Horror hounds will surely feel satisfied, but how does this movie fit into the "universe"?

For one thing, any movie that has the Warrens in it earns extra points. They are lovable characters, with a great relationship and their own kooky charm, as well as level-headed cool when it comes to facing down ghosts and demons.

They're also seemingly quite authoritative and trustworthy, far more so than other, dubious "based-on-a-true story" horrors like The Amityville Horror and The Haunting in Connecticut.

Their presence brings up cosmic questions about a possible existence after life on this plane ends. Characters in Annabelle Comes Home spend a few crucial moments discussing this as well.

Then, Annabelle herself was actually based on a real doll. But after appearances in several other movies, she has already been established as pure evil, and the most malevolent object in the Warrens' collection. There's not much more anyone can say about her.

No, the most interesting character here is a fictional one, Daniela, who blames herself for her father's death, and carries great guilt and sadness masked by snarky bravado. That the Warrens eventually give her hope of reaching him again is the movie's most unique aspect.

If, in addition to coming up with more spooky monsters, the series can continue to reach into this divide between life and death, it could be truly and deeply haunting — and moving.

Warner Bros. Blu-ray release features an excellent transfer and a spooky Dolby Atmos audio track, as well as an optional Movies Anywhere digital copy and a DVD. Bonuses include three short "behind-the-scenes" featurettes, and two more featurettes, a fun one about the artifact room, and the other about the Warrens' relationship. The disc also includes 11 minutes of deleted scenes, and trailers at startup.

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