Annabelle Comes Close

James Wan’s Ed & Lorraine Warren films are, financially speaking, the only successful cinematic universe outside of Marvel. Based on the infamous Warren files, they dig into real cases taken by the demonology experts. Annabelle Comes Home, the seventh (!) inspired by said files, is a fun house-of-horrors sleepover for Warren enthusiasts, even if it can’t quite scare the bajeezus out of you.

Franchise stalwart Gary Dauberman directs with occasional Wan-like panache, utilizing 70’s tunes and still moments to evoke period detail and encroaching doom. Unfortunately, his film is all tease and no climax. Annabelle can chill and cause a shiver like the best of ’em, however, that peak moment of sheer terror is lost on a tale that seems primarily aimed at young teenagers looking for a quick fright rather than grown-ups looking for a long night. There’s something wrong when you go to sleep after fright night and don’t even keep the lights on. Still, those still moments are crafted as well as can be, and the Warrens’ occult museum is a bag of tricks finally unleashed. Annabelle Comes Home indulges in our curiosities, giving short and enjoyable shrift to the haunted samurai and television set, or the dusty organ and bridal dress. The best of them is a English hell-hound, fog included, that terrorizes the sweet boy-next-door (Michael Cimino) in and around the Warrens’ property. If Warner Bros. must indulge in said curiosities, they could do worse than a demonic werewolf movie. Pat Wilson and Vera Farmiga gotta eat, right? Here they’re relegated to bookend scenes featuring the Warrens encasing Annabelle in a glass cage and later coming home to discover what the babysitter (Madison Iseman) and friends hath wrought in that room of cursed trinkets. That’s where Comes Home comes apart at times, in avoiding the typical horror pitfall of dumb characters making dumb-ass decisions. Babysitter’s friend Daniella is the main culprit, a character whom we’re supposed to empathize with via motivations that are believable yet under-cooked.

For a fan of the paranormal such as myself, learning more about the Warrens’ life and untold adventures can be compelling stuff. Annabelle Comes Home doesn’t quite measure up in scares, but Dauberman and producer Wan give their audience the one thing we’ve been hankering for since the occult museum showed up in 2013’s original Conjuring: a buffet of ghouls and grotesque spirits let loose upon the world.

Grade: B-

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