The Annabelle movies are a spin-off series based around a haunted doll that was introduced in the prologue to The Conjuring. Annabelle was a prequel to the other Conjuring movies up to that point and was not very good, while Annabelle: Creation was a prequel to that prequel and somehow actually quite fine. Annabelle Comes Home is a sequel not only to both of its predecessors but also to The Conjuring and fellow spin-offs The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, though it still takes place prior to the events of The Conjuring 2.
There doesn’t seem to be a reason for that or for the Annabelle storyline to loop back around to its mother franchise except that the last installment worked by making the good guy side of the “humans versus demons” equation a set of young girls and older female caregivers. This setting lets them pay off the Chekhov’s gun of Annabelle taking command of The Warrens’ other haunted objects while daughter Judy can still be a precocious teen stuck at home with her babysitters. Well one babysitter, the babysitter’s friend, and a local boy with a crush.
That’s the movie. Despite the somewhat misleading editing of the trailers, Annabelle Comes Home is not also The Conjuring 3 or even some reunification of the franchises wherein the Annabelle-adjacent entity battles The Warrens up close and personal. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga turn up at the beginning and end of the film, but otherwise this is a straightforward late-’70s period cross between When a Stranger Calls and Poltergeist where a charmingly classic model quartet of youth horror protagonists face down the forces of Hell because the kid’s parents happen to be professional exorcists and the less-responsible teenager just had to go snooping in the locked room where they keep all the jumping-off points for future potential spin-offs.
The gimmick of The Conjuring franchise as a whole is that it takes place in an alternate timeline where Ed and Lorraine Warren, who gained notoriety perpetuating the Amityville Haunting hoax and are generally viewed with skepticism even among other ghost hunters, are a movie star-sexy married couple with real Satan fighting psychic superpowers. They keep a roomful of cursed souvenirs from their most dangerous not-at-all staged, obviously fake, or famously debunked battles against the demonic in their basement, of which the most dangerous is supposedly the haunted doll Annabelle.
If you were expecting the Comes Home title to mean the protagonists would be facing down an all-star squad of previous The Conjuring nemeses you clearly forgot that this series managed to still be smart and scary despite consistently featuring singularly uninspired, mostly interchangeable monsters as the heavies.
Rather than being a possessed toy like Child’s Play’s Chucky, Annabelle isn’t so much inhabited as she is a kind of Satanic wifi hotspot for an ultra-powerful, still as-yet unnamed demon to access the human world and go hunting for souls. Said demon’s evil energy is powerful enough that Annabelle also tends to activate all manner of other evil goings on in the general vicinity and draws other demons, ghosts, and monsters toward her signal to jump out of the shadows and audition for spin-offs of their own.
If you were expecting the Comes Home title to mean the protagonists would be facing down an all-star squad of previous The Conjuring nemeses you clearly forgot that this series managed to still be smart and scary despite consistently featuring singularly uninspired, mostly interchangeable monsters as the heavies. The time the roster of also-rans include a symbiote wedding dress, a TV that sees your future, a haunted board game that’s not Ouija, a Charon-esque ghoul called The Ferryman and a werewolf.
Despite how much I like to make fun of the clunkier parts of this film and the wider series, I can’t deny that it still pretty much works. I almost don’t want it to because by this point the machinery of it is so familiar and visible. The marketing exercise of The Conjuring Cinematic Universe is such a brazenly cynical thing and The Nun, La Llorona and Annabelle were all lousy. But when these films are good, they’re good. While Annabelle Comes Home is not as good as Annabelle: Creation, it’s still pretty good.
The secret to all of the good entries in this series is that they’ve been smart. They don’t have brilliant things to say and they’re not offering a groundbreaking new take on the genre, but they’re very well made with a firm grasp of horror/suspense mechanics and a strong sense of character writing. Sure, the good girl/not-as-good girl/suitor boy/kid dynamic is straight out of Archie comics, but the characters are well drawn with layers that surprise you. Their occasional adherence to archetype also feels like an earned reward. This is the first recent ensemble horror I can remember that deliberately doesn’t include any characters who are just meant to be the one we don’t like.
That’s not to say that this film is anything but a time killer while we await The Conjuring 3. But audiences have decided to christen Annabelle as a bankable modern horror icon and Annabelle Comes Home provides continued evidence that she’s earned that status.