There is a scene in “Annabelle Comes Home” where a haunted typewriter in The Warren’s Occult Museum begins to type “Miss Me?” after everyone’s favorite demonically possessed doll Annabelle is unleashed from her protective glass box.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in what could have been titled “The Conjuring 1.5” as the film takes place in 1972, a year after the events of “The Conjuring” and four years before the Amityville case, which opens “The Conjuring 2.” Screenwriter-turned-director Gary Dauberman takes the less-is-more approach as building tension leads to a finale where Pandora’s box of paranormal frights is blown wide open.
After penning the first two “Annabelle” films, “The Nun” and producing “The Curse of La Llorona,” screenwriter Gary Dauberman jumps behind the camera to direct “Annabelle Comes Home” after writing the script based on an idea from James Wan the producer behind the “Conjuring” universe.
The atmospheric horror film has a lot going for it. Dauberman replaces cheap jump scares with mounting tension in order to deliver genuine frights.
Wilson and Farmiga only appear at the beginning and end of the film, but the duo’s scenes are substantial enough that you can’t call it a cameo. The two have been playing Ed and Lorraine Warren for the last six years with dignity and gravitas, a tribute to the real-life paranormal investigators.
The film also benefits from Dauberman’s refusal to partake in the abuse of cheap CGI effects, which have become the norm in most horror films. The special effects look terrific but the film relies on the imagination of the audience as the tension builds slowly to the point of being almost unbearable before the curtain is pulled back to unveil the grotesque-looking doll prowling through the home and turning up when you least expect her.
Think of Annabelle as the conductor of an evil symphony filled with various monsters and entities, some created for the film while others are based on real cases investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren.
First there’s a Hellhound roaming the Warren’s property, a werewolf-like specter based on an actual case, a knife-wielding bride in a haunted wedding dress which feels like a reference to “The Curse of La Llorona,” and an entity called The Ferryman based on Greek mythology’s Charon who conveyed souls across Hades after receiving gold coins as a bribe.
The film opens as Ed and Lorraine escort Annabelle to her new home in the Warren’s Occult Museum located in the basement of their Monroe, Conn., residence. It serves as a Pandora’s box filled with haunted artifacts sealed off from the world to keep the evil at bay. It doesn’t take long for the couple to realize the influence the doll has on the dead when their car breaks down in front of an old cemetery. The chilling opening sets the tone for the rest of the film that takes place at the Warren home.
McKenna Grace does a 180 after playing determined 13-year-old Carol Danvers earlier this year in “Captain Marvel.” Here, the young actress plays Ed and Lorraine’s timid daughter Judy who is forced to face her fears once all hell breaks loose inside her parent’s home. Grace delivers a terrific performance as she exhibits bravery in moments of duress. Judy has her mom’s gift of clairvoyance in its infancy, and I could see her character becoming a major player in the future of the “Conjuring” universe.
Madison Iseman (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) plays Judy’s teenage babysitter Mary Ellen and Katie Sarife plays Judy’s friend Daniela who tags along in the hopes of contacting her recently departed father’s spirit by using the objects in the Warren home. Of course, Daniela sneaks into the Occult Museum and lets Annabelle out of her protective enclosure leading to all kinds of trouble for the three young girls who battle the supernatural while Ed and Lorraine are out of town on an overnight stay.
“Annabelle Comes Home” excels at creating the perfect atmosphere for the supernatural thriller. Dauberman impressed me with his lack of restraint choosing to neglect cheap frights in order to build tension leading to genuine scares reminiscent of films released during the era of the film’s storyline such as 1973’s “The Legend of Hell House.”
Apart from the film’s effective monsters the audience is treated to a haunted old television that displays the future of the person gazing into the device that is straight out of “The Twilight Zone,” an appearance of the obsolete Milton Bradley board game Feeley Meeley, which is a missed opportunity as Dauberman should have taken a cue from “Phantasm.” There are moments of levity to give the audience a quick break from the horror. It’s a refreshing horror film to tide us over until the Warrens return for “The Conjuring III,” which is set to be released in September 2020.