Annabelle Comes Home shows none of the fatigue someone would expect from the seventh entry in a horror franchise. Rather, the directorial debut of long-time Annabelle writer Gary Dauberman is a confident, compelling and, above all else, chilling horror film.
Annabelle Comes Home focuses not so much on Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as it does on their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace). Growing up as the daughter of noted paranormal investigators is starting to weigh on the young girl. Her closest friend seems to be Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), her kind-hearted babysitter. Mary Ellen is set to watch Judy for a weekend while her parents are gone when her friend Danielle (Katie Sarife) shows up. Exploring the Artifact Room, which contains various haunted items, in an attempt to find some proof of the afterlife, Danielle accidentally unleashes the spirit within the infamous Annabelle doll. Annabelle, in turn, unleashes everything else in the room. It doesn't take long for all of those spirits target the three girls in their own individual ways.
All three girls are well-constructed, with Grace and Iseman delivering solid performances throughout the Annabelle Comes Home. Sarife gets the most difficult role, but she makes the potentially infuriating Danielle into a sympathetic and charming young woman in search of closure. Farmiga and Wilson are as good as they ever are in these films, giving the Warrens a soft center that doesn't betray their resolve. Michael Cimino also appears as Bob, the hapless boy next door with a crush on Mary Ellen. Cimino makes the character the surprising comic stand-out of the film, giving him just enough bravery (and more than enough dopiness) to turn him into a hall-of-fame horror movie supporting character.
All four young actors help give the Annabelle Comes Home a surprisingly sly sense of humor that works well with the rest of the film. The script, by Dauberman and based on a story he conceived with executive producer James Wan, has more room to be charming than other movies in the franchise. This benefits the smaller setting and relatively tiny cast, giving them room to let their personalities take the forefront in their sequences.
But the humans aren't really the draw of a movie like this. The premise of Annabelle Comes Home invites the producers to create a host of terrifying new specters and ghouls to haunt the audience's nightmares. The film succeeds with gusto in this regard, introducing some genuinely terrifying ghouls into the narrative. Special mention has to go to the Ferry-Man, who relies less on jump scares and more on creepy ambiance and building dread. While the movie does feature a number of quick jump scares, they don't come as cheaply as in other movies.
Dauberman instead manages to instill a palpable sense of tension throughout Annabelle Comes Home, displaying a strong knowledge on when to pull back and when to lean into the scariest elements of the story. The best moments in the film are the most creative, such as when ghosts seem to walk through mirrors into neighboring rooms or transform from shadow into demons within a single changing light.
Dauberman has a blast with the sandbox he's created, allowing the various ghosts plenty of room to feel fleshed out and frightening in their own way. His direction is smooth throughout the film, managing to achieve a great deal with atmosphere and composition with seemingly no effort. Annabelle Comes Home looks great, making the Warrens' house into a clear (but terrifying) maze for the girls to suddenly have to contend with. For a first time director, Dauberman quickly proves himself to have the same level of skill as the other talented directors of the Conjuring universe. The franchise has always been well-shot and constructed, but Annabelle Comes Home might be the best of the series in that regard.
Annabelle Comes Home may be the best entry in the entire Conjuring franchise. It features some of the most creative scares in the series, allowing itself to dispense with overwrought backstories and just letting spooky ghosts scare the cast (and the audience). Unlike previous films, where the human cast was at best a side-aspect of the scares and at worst completely disposable, each character in Annabelle Comes Home feels genuine and fleshed out. On top of that, each and every one of the major spirits in the movie could have carried their own narrative. But by bringing them all into one movie, Dauberman is able to effectively make the best -- and scariest -- haunted house film in years.
Written and directed by Gary Dauberman, Annabelle Comes Home stars Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife. The film hits theaters on June 28.