Review: ANNABELLE COMES HOME is funny, scary, and spiritual

by Charles Gerian

“Not all ghosts are bad.”

ANNABELLE COMES HOME, the third film in the “Annabelle” sub-franchise that spawned from 2013’s THE CONJURING- part of what is now a six film “Conjuring Universe”- released this past Wednesday and is packed from start-to-finish with scares, laughs, and some brilliant moments that act as a sign this spooky universe and all it’s eerie contents are far from growing cobwebs

ANNABELLE COMES HOME finds audiences with the young Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace) the daughter of paranormal investigators and Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who is left at home in the care of a plucky babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and her more rambunctious friend Daniela Rios (Katie Sarife).

Soon, however, Daniela is lead into the Warrens Occult Room where every item collected over their terrifying and long career is “haunted, cursed, or used in some kind of ritual”...especially one. A redheaded porcelain doll with haunting eyes by the name of Annabelle. Hell is unleashed as Daniela accidentally opens Annabelle’s case, causing the possessed doll to bring to life some of the Warrens most dangerous artifacts while the reluctant teens must survive a night of terror.

The film is written by Gary Dauberman who is quickly becoming a household name in Warner Brothers horror house with his work on 2017’s mega hit IT, these three Annabelle films, and this year’s THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA. Dauberman also, for the first time in his career, is behind the camera as well and you wouldn’t think this was the man’s directorial debut by how masterfully handled this film is visually.

Cut at a brisk hour and 46 minutes, the film acts as a long teaser for potential spin-offs while delivering something of an R-rated, spooktacular version of ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING. The screenplay gives the audience plenty of time to settle in with the characters and their world (the latter for those who might be new) and it really counts when the ghouls start popping up and the scares keep amping because we genuinely care for these people, thanks obviously to the amazing talent on screen with the three lead actresses.

You’ll recognize Judy’s Mckenna Grace from “Fuller House” and “Designated Survivor”, Mary Ellen’s Madison Iseman from JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, and Daniela’s Katie Sarife from “Supernatural” and “Girl Meets World”. All three of which are joys to watch, and have a convincing sense of youthful innocence and wholesomeness to them.

The film is funny, probably the most “light-hearted” entry so far which is a nice palette cleanse from the Gothic and brooding THE NUN or this year’s dour and grim LA LLORONA, and a lot of that humor comes from the teen girls banter, some great use of prop comedy, and the plucky “boy-next-door” in the form of Michael Cimino’s Bob “With the Balls” Palmeri who shares a puppy-love crush with Mary Ellen and brings one of those most smile-inducing “gee wiz” teen romances in years.

Funny, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t scary. Dauberman gives us several terrifying new haunts with ANNABELLE COMES HOME, resulting in the title character herself working behind the scenes for most of the film which is fine, as she has been the franchise’s mascot since 2013.

Standout additions include a possessed bridal dress which conjures up an enraged and bloody siren of a bride; The Ferryman who is a haunting spectre with coins for eyes that lurks in the shadows; a werewolf; a creepy television that displays the immediate future; a mysterious board game; and a terrifyingly sinister suit of Japanese Samurai armor. All of these- or most- will no doubt be headlining their own “Conjuring” tales within the coming years.

The thing that always stands out about “The Conjuring” films is their dedication to presenting faith at face-value, as a tangible power in the universe. God and the power of salvation are as real as the demons and sinister shadow beasts that inhabit this world, which allows the films an excuse to almost be classified as “Faith based” pictures.

This power of the almighty is certainly not lacking in ANNABELLE COMES HOME as Mary Ellen tries to calm Judy’s fears of seeing the ghost of a deceased priest in their Christian school. Mary tells Judy that “just like not all people are bad, not all ghosts are bad either”. After-all, is a “Ghost” not there with “The Father” and “The Son” in prayer? It is this spirit of the priest that eventually shows up within the Warren’s home to guide Judy and help her find Annabelle so that they can lock her back away in her glass prison. I feel a think-piece coming on in the near future, but it is refreshing to see such a wholehearted representation of religion on screen in a genre that so often plays it to be a hoax or a “secret weapon” by some character actor.

ANNABELLE COMES HOME is now playing, and will wet your palette for 2020’s THE CONJURING III now in production.