“Annabelle Comes Home” is a classic sort of haunted house story. It may not please Shock and Bleed horror movie fans, but it will entertain a large audience.
The movie is in the “Conjuring” series. It is set in the home of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), characters based on the real-life ghost busters who founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. According to the films, the Warrens kept a locked room of haunted objects at their house.
A newspaper article about the Ed and Lorraine appears shortly before they go off for an overnight trip, leaving their 10-year-old daughter Judy (McKenna Grace, with a haircut that makes her look like Mara Wilson in “Matilda”) with blonde teenaged babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).
Mary Ellen is flirting with a neighborhood boy called “Balls” because he was an equipment manager for the school’s basketball team. And she has a brunette pal named Daniela (Katie Sarife). Daniela’s brother is leading the bullies who pick on Judy at school.
Daniela comes to visit at the Warrens, her curiosity prompted by the article. You see, she was driving a car which was hit by another vehicle. Her father died in the crash. Not her fault, but still she wishes to have confirmation that something spiritual about him lives on.
So she is the one who goes snooping in the curiosity room. Later Mary Ellen will ask her what she touched there and Daniela will answer “everything.” Worst of all, she unlocks the case of recycled chapel glass in which the creepy doll Annabelle has been confined.
Now we’ve seen several movies about Annabelle, who seems to be the temporary repository of a soul-seeking demon. With the demon out of its glass cell, all the evil or restless spirits in the area come alive.
And with them providing the dangers, moviegoers get to see all the familiar surprises and assaults associated with haunted house stories. What’s that you feel nudging your feet under the covers late at night? What happens to that wedding gown that makes anyone wearing it become violent?
One notices the gown and begins waiting to see how it will reappear in the story.
What happens to Mary Ellen’s young beau, who shows up below a lighted window to serenade his romantic object at just about the time something like a big werewolf emerges from the fog? At one point in the story each of the four supernaturally besieged characters is alone somewhere in or around the house.
Writer and director Gary Dauberman (who earlier wrote the original “Annabelle,” “The Nun” and “It”) may go just a touch light when adding comedy here. “Balls” hides in a chicken coop. By then the goofy pizza delivery driver has already given the boy romantic advice: “Woo the girl.” The tall, bespectacled Gomer seems an unlikely confidant.
So Dauberman doesn’t emphasize the jokes. But he is able to keep the different theaters of action separate and clear.
Some of the movie’s details are pretty good uses of traditional ghost story elements. The dead keep appearing and dropping the coins from their eyes (remember the Beatles’ “Taxman”)? The commercial game the girls play asks them to blindly reach hands into a box. The TV in the curio room shows what will happen next to Daniela. There are good 1970s details, too. “Badfinger” music plays on the stereo. The décor is perfect. And so are the clothes.
There are details that consistency-seekers may be troubled by. The electricity is off in the house, except for Judy’s rotating night light. And when everything is returned, magically, to its original place and status, Balls’ guitar is still kindling.
But now I’m praising with weak quibbles. “Annabelle Comes Home” isn’t going to shock viewers. But it may make them uneasy enough that they can get a sort of catharsis out of a viewing.