Grade: B-/C+
Entire family: No (way)
Horror, thriller
2019, 106 min., Color
Rated R for horror violence and terror
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: C+/B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Amazon link

First there was The Conjuring (2013), then Annabelle (2014), The Conjuring 2 (2016), Annabelle: Creation (2017), The Nun (2018), The Curse of La Llorona (2019), and now Annabelle Comes Home (2019). The Conjuring Universe continues to expand, but this latest film isn’t as much of a big bang as it is a slow evolution from dark potentiality to a third act burst of relatively predictable action. That’s because it’s a Pandora’s box film, and even if you know nothing about Greek mythology you probably have heard that Pandora opened a box (well, jar, actually) and unwittingly unleashed sickness, plagues, death, and all manner of evils on humankind. With a Pandora’s box film, you know the plot will be about trying to re-contain those evils, and the protagonists either will succeed or not. You have a 50/50 chance of guessing the outcome.

That’s one thing that makes Annabelle Comes Home less energetic or surprising than some of the previous entries. Fans have been through this before and know what to expect. There aren’t as many scares as in previous films, but the ones that are here are high octane, and their intensity is boosted by the fact that much of the action takes place within the confines of the home.

Annabelle Comes Home pays continued homage to those legendary paranormal investigators (or frauds, depending on whom you ask), Ed and Lorraine Warren, whose claims have provoked skepticism and inspired this franchise and also the Amityville Horror films. The couple founded the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 and published numerous books about their alleged ghost chases. The Annabelle story comes from the Warrens’ investigation into two roommates who claimed a Raggedy Ann doll was possessed. The Warrens grabbed that doll and put it in their home occult museum. And that’s what Annabelle Comes Home is all about.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as the Warrens (again), and the film opens with them confiscating the doll from a pair of nurses and, with the help of a priest, seals that doll up in a glass case so that it can’t conjure up or agitate any more ghosts and demons. Fast forward five years and the Warrens hire a babysitter named Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to watch their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) while they’re off on another investigation. All it takes for all heck to break loose is for Mary Ellen’s friend, Daniela (Katie Sarife), to show up unannounced and uninvited and, when no one is looking, start poking around inside the top secret no access occult museum room. We found out why later and it plays a huge part in the film’s resolution, but you’ll get no spoilers from me. Not today, anyway. All I’ll say is what you’ve already guessed: Annabelle is at it again!

The horror genre is all about the slow simmer, but Annabelle Comes Home may seem even slower than usual until that third act kicks in. If you’re a fan of the Annabelle films, this one is better than the original but not as good as Annabelle: Creation. But it does resonate at the end in a way that should please fans of films like these for the simple reason that, as co-writer and director Gary Dauberman is fully aware, evil spirits and ghosts offer one main positive: they confirm, for viewers, that there is an afterlife. And if your kids have been begging you to watch a horror film, at least this horror version of Adventures in Babysitting has young characters that teens and tweens can identify with and way fewer deaths than the average fright flick.

Language: One f-bomb and only a dozen or fewer minor swearwords

Sex: Nothing here, not even innuendo

Violence: Not nearly as violent as previous films, but extremely frightening for children under 15 or so; people get thrown and stabbed and tossed across the room, and there’s some weird Dementor-like action

Adult situations: The apparitions are pretty realistically frightening, and since but there’s no drug use, smoking or alcohol use

Takeaway: Like Chuckie (and the Energizer Bunny) this creepy doll keeps going, and going, and going