In The Conjuring, demonic doll Annabelle (whose introduction deftly established Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s Ed and Lorraine Warren as god-fearing, paranormal investigators) is described by the latter as a conduit for evil. And just like that, she was appointed the ghoulish glue that would go on to cameo in – and tenuously connect – six of the seven instalments in the ever-expanding franchise.
Annabelle Comes Home essentially doubles down on her being a puppet master for sinister entities as it sees Ed and Lorraine leave their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of responsible babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) while they go out of town for a case. When Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) breaks into the Warrens’ room of cursed artefacts and inadvertently frees Annabelle from her chapel glass cabinet, the trio find themselves tormented by a plethora of menacing spirits, from a soothsaying television to a haunted wedding dress. All of which are being controlled by the bloody-cheeked toy.
It’s fun for a while – like a Conjuring-style bingo made up of freaky figures – and allows director Gary Dauberman to explore the slightly stranger side of the universe… Werewolf, anybody? But the jump-scares that come with them grow tiresome and at times, it can’t help but feel like the film is just cramming antagonists in in the hope that one will prove popular and spawn yet another bankable spin-off. It’s laughably coincidental that the standout is The Ferryman, a spooky-looking ghost who leaves a trail of coins to lure in his victims.
Buoyed by strong performances from Iseman, Sarife and Grace, Annabelle Comes Home fleshes out its characters – unlike the abysmal The Curse Of La Llorona and The Nun – with Judy inheriting her mother’s clairvoyant gifts and Daniela struggling to shake the crippling guilt that an event in her past has left her with. Mary Ellen doesn’t fair quite as well but she does have a sweet romantic subplot with Bob, the dreamy-but-awkward comic relief. It’s just frustrating that with so many ‘monsters’ eating up the runtime, there’s little left to properly explore those interesting aspects of the story.
There’s clearly still potential within this franchise (Wilson and Farmiga continue to delight as the loved-up Warrens, even if they are only in it for a few minutes and visually, it’s consistently polished) but this outing just proves that these films are strongest when the human characters determine the narrative rather than supernatural beings. As for Annabelle specifically, maybe it’s time for the evil to be contained.