“Annabelle Comes Home”, the seventh installment in the Conjuring Universe franchise, delivers exactly what its target audiences want although it is not wholly satisfying in my trivial opinion. While it is surely packed with enough creepy atmosphere and a number of scary moments to jolt or thrill you, but it is sometimes hampered by its weak narrative and characterization, and, as discerning more of its flawed aspects during my viewing, I often found myself feeling distant to whatever was going on the screen.
After the prologue part showing how Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), a decent couple who are also well-known experts on paranormal activities including spiritual possession as shown in “The Conjuring” (2013) and its 2016 sequel, manage to bring an evil doll named Annabelle to the safe storage room in their cozy suburban house, the movie moves to one year later, and then we meet their little daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace), who has been going through a rather difficult time at her Catholic school. While often ridiculed by other students for her parents’ growing reputation, she has also been disturbed by a certain ghost hanging around the school, and there is a creepy scene where she comes to senses the presence of that ghost even while not looking behind her.
When Mr. and Mrs. Warren are going to be absent for some business to be taken care of, a teenager girl named Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) is brought as a babysitter to take care of Judy during the upcoming weekend. While Mary Ellen is supposed to be alone with Judy, her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) soon comes to the house mainly because of her personal curiosity about what Mr. and Mrs. Warren have dealt with for years, and it does not take much time for her to become quite interested in whatever is behind the heavily locked door of that safety storage room in the house.
If you watched “The Conjuring”, you remember well that Mr. and Mrs. Warren’s safety storage room are full of potentially dangerous objects besides Annabelle, which has been safely contained inside a sacred glass case. Everything in the room looks ominous enough to alarm anyone, but Daniela ignores those numerous bad signs around her, and she is not even disturbed much by the big warning sign attached to that sacred glass case containing Annabelle.
Anyway, it turns out that Daniela has been desperately wishing to contact with her recently diseased father, so she casually attempts to summon her father’s soul in front of Annabelle, but, of course, she only comes to unleash the evil influence of Annabelle instead. Although nothing seems to happen on the surface at first, it is pretty apparent to us that Annabelle is back in her action now, and the mood around the house accordingly becomes more malevolent – especially when night comes.
Gradually increasing the level of tension and creepiness on the screen with a series of small disturbing moments, the movie amuses us a bit from time to time. While we get some small laughs via an adolescent boy willing to go further for impressing Mary Ellen, there is a sweet moment when Mary Ellen and Daniela surprise Judy with a little early birthday party for her, and we later get a warm, intimate moment between Judy and Mary Ellen as Judy is about to sleep under Mary Ellen’s care.
Around the third act of the movie, all the hell breaks loose as expected. Besides a murderous ghost associated with a shabby wedding dress, Annabelle also releases other evil spirits including 1) the one called ‘The Ferryman’, 2) the one lurking inside a seemingly harmless board game, 3) the one associated with an imposing Samurai armor, and 4) the one which is a sort of werewolf ghost. Director/co-writer Gary Dauberman, who wrote the story with co-producer James Wan, serves us several scary scenes peppered with creaks and bangs as demanded, and we certainly get some fun and thrill as our three young main characters are cornered more and more by the dark forces surrounding them.
However, the movie is often superficial in terms of story and characters. It is acceptable that Judy, Mary Ellen, and Daniela are broad archetype characters, but they are still more or less than mere plot elements to function as planned, and that aspect is especially evident in case of Daniela, whose personal matter involved with her dead father is not particularly depicted well without any substantial emotional depth.
The main cast members did a fairly good job of filling their respective roles as much as possible. While Mckenna Grace, who previously drew our attention for her good performances in “Gifted” (2017) and “I, Tonya” (2017), brings pluckiness to her part while often looking worried and daunted as required, her co-performers Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife imbue their supporting roles with some spirit and personality, and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are reliable as usual although their characters are disappointingly under-utilized in the film.
In conclusion, “Annabelle Comes Home” is a competent genre product, but it is less satisfying than “Annabelle: Creation” (2017) due to its several distracting flaws. I give it 2.5 stars for this reason, but, considering what I observed from other audiences around me, I think you may be more generous to it, so I will not stop you if you simply want to spend some free time on it.