Toys rule at the box office these days. “Toy Story 4” and “Child’s Play” made big bank last weekend. This week marks the return of Annabelle, the $1 billion devil dolly. The wickedest toy since Chucky she’s the creepy, glassy-eyed star of “The Conjuring” prequels.
On screen Annabelle, an old-fashioned doll possessed by evil spirits, has raised all manner of havoc. Before she was captured by “self-described “demonologists, ghost hunters and kooks” Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) she terrorized orphans and haunted children. “The doll,” says Lorraine, “is a beacon for other spirits.”
To keep the world safe from the demonic doll the Warrens stored her in a glass box at their Occult Museum (a basement that looks like a prop warehouse run by Bella Lugosi) in Connecticut. There she is controlled by chapel glass from an old church blessed by a priest to prevent her from causing any more trouble. But what happens if the spell wears off?
In “Annabelle Comes Home” a babysitter’s (Madison Iseman) snooping friend (Katie Sarife) upsets the spiritual balance of the museum, allowing the artefacts to do what they’re meant to do, cause trouble. Now everyone in the house, including the Warrens’ ten-year-old daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), is a target of evil. “Annabelle. She’s doing all this,” says Judy. “She wants a soul today.”
As with all other “Conjuring” universe movies “Annabelle Come Home” takes its sweet time building an atmosphere of dread to leave you queasy and uneasy. For much of the running time the weirdest thing that happens is an invisible, ghostly hand breaking a glass of milk and starting the stereo. There are jump scares but they don’t deliver much of a payoff. Nothing is singularly shocking, it’s more the cumulative effect of evil versus innocence that disturbs. Director Gary Dauberman knows that the long game, the gradual reveal of evil, complete with the old-school now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t-theatrics, is creepier than overt scares.
“Annabelle Comes Home” works because it creates a mini universe with its own set of rules and God help you if you break them. Best of all it’s an old-fashioned film that doesn’t rely on gore to sell the thrills. Instead there’s lots of laboured breathing, wide eyed disbelief, low-fi drive-in thrills and characters you want to survive.