“Annabelle Comes Home” is not only the third “Annabelle” movie, it’s also the seventh in The Conjuring Universe.
“The Conjuring,” released in 2013 and the first in the franchise, was based on Lorraine and Ed Warren, real paranormal investigators. (Lorraine died in April at age 92.)
“Annabelle Comes Home” straddles the line between true story and fiction.
On its own, it’s a serviceable, solid scarefest. It begins, more or less, after the events of “The Conjuring.” (To complicate matters, the second film, “Annabelle: Creation,” takes place before the first, “Annabelle.” This one comes after both.)
Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) collect the doll Annabelle, and bring it home to their secret, locked room full of cursed and haunted artifacts. It gets a place of honor, sealed in a blessed glass box.
Later, they head out for another job, leaving their young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the hands of capable babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman).
Mary Ellen plans an early birthday celebration for Judy, an outcast at school due to her parents’ ghoulish occupation and also her power of clairvoyance inherited from her mother.
Mary Ellen’s less-responsible friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) — who goes where she shouldn’t because she doesn’t believe in ghosts —- shows up.
Thankfully, Daniela turns into the most interesting character. She has a reason for poking around in the Warrens’ secret room. And there’s a reason why Annabelle gets loose and begins wreaking havoc.
Screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who contributed to “Annabelle” and “The Nun” in the series, as well as the recent Stephen King adaptation “It,” makes his directing debut, and it’s surefooted.
Creator James Wan, director of the two “Conjuring” films, seems to have set up a template, a dedication to three-dimensional space, spare cutting and plenty of rhythmic sleight-of-hand. The usual “bang!” jump-scares are infrequent, and sound and music are extraordinarily unsettling.
Dauberman dutifully follows the template to excellent effect. “Annabelle Comes Home” is definitely scary, from a sequence in which a blood-spattered bride circles a room, to one in which Daniela watches images of herself on a haunted TV set.
Horror hounds surely will be satisfied. But how does this movie fit into the Conjuring Universe?
For one thing, any movie that has the Warrens in it earns extra points. They’re lovable characters, with a great relationship and their own kooky charm, as well as level-headed cool when it comes to facing down ghosts and demons.
They’re also seemingly authoritative and trustworthy, far more than other dubious “based-on-a-true story” offerings such as “The Amityville Horror” and “The Haunting in Connecticut.”
Their presence brings up cosmic questions about a possible existence after life. Characters in “Annabelle Comes Home” spend a few crucial moments discussing this, too.
While Annabelle is based on a real doll, after appearances in several movies, she’s been established as pure evil, and the most malevolent object in the Warrens’ collection. There’s not much more to say about her.
The most interesting character here is the fictional Daniela, who blames herself for her father’s death and carries great guilt and sadness masked by snarky bravado. And, uniquely and distinctly, the Warrens eventually give her hope of reaching him again.
If, in addition to coming up with more spooky monsters, the series continues to reach into this divide between life and death, it could be truly and deeply haunting — and moving.
Annabelle Comes Home
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife
Written by: Gary Dauberman, story by James Wan
Directed by: Gary Dauberman
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes