As a (for now) trilogy of killer doll movies, there’s a lot here to admire. While the middle chapter, Annabelle: Creation, is the most consistently frightening and well produced, the underrated first entry possesses (pun intended) one of the most horrifying opening scenes of any 21st century horror movie. The filmmakers are untested but talented (Gary Dauberman makes an impressive directorial debut with Annabelle Comes Home), getting a great deal of extended mileage out of a villain who never moves and has the same diabolical look on her face. There will be deeper, more profound horror movies this year, but few will be as a plainly effective and efficiently shudder-inducing as this one.
Annabelle, the creepy doll mascot of the “Conjuring” universe, is indeed coming home. Specifically, she is coming into the home of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) in the early 70’s. To be clear, the doll itself is not as evil or dangerous as its reputation implies, but it can be used and controlled by evil, dangerous demons. So if the doll starts popping up where it doesn’t belong, a demon isn’t far behind. A lot of scares in this movie involve the doll popping up where it doesn’t belong.
The Warrens leave town for the weekend (you didn’t think actors the caliber of Wilson and Farmiga were going to stick around for the whole movie, did you?), leaving their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) in the care of babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Judy is having a hard time at school because the other kids tease her for having parents in a questionable profession. One person who isn’t so quick to tease is Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife). In fact, she’s so far in the opposite direction that she invites herself over to the Warren house to learn more about what they do – and maybe get some closure on a personal matter in the process.