[Screen It]


(2019) (McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman) (R)

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Horror: Two teenagers and the preteen they're babysitting must contend with unspeakable evil being released into their house.
It's been a year since paranormal investigators Lorraine (VERA FARMIGA) and Ed Warren (PATRICK WILSON) locked away an evil doll known as a conduit for evil, named Annabelle, inside a blessed case inside their home. With them heading out on an overnight trip, they've tasked high school teenager Mary Ellen (MADISON ISEMAN) to babysit their preteen daughter, Judy (McKENNA GRACE).

Having heard that the Warrens recently performed an exorcism, Mary Ellen's teenage friend Daniela (KATIE SARIFE) blackmails her to allow her to come over for the evening or else she'll let a teenage grocery store clerk, Bob (MICHAEL CIMINO), know that Mary Ellen has a crush on him.

Mary Ellen reluctantly agrees and things start off innocently enough. But while Mary Ellen and Judy are outside testing out the latter's new roller skates, Daniela -- who feels responsible for her father's recent death -- finds the key to a heavily locked room and enters to find all sorts of supposedly haunted or otherwise evil artifacts, including Annabelle. Despite warnings on the glass case, Daniela opens that and handles the doll, but is then distracted by a smoke alarm elsewhere in the house.

All of which allows multiple supernatural entities to be set loose, including a murderous bride, a werewolf of sorts, a ferryman who once escorted the dead, and some of those various souls. From that point on, the three girls do what they can to survive various encounters with those evil entities.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Hollywood loves the scares associated with horror films, and I'm not referring to the feelings of uneasiness, dread and terror they can induce on those who dare to watch them. Instead, I'm referring solely to the amount of money they "scare up" at the box office in relation to what they cost.

Sure, every studio wants a mega-hit like "Avengers: Endgame" for bragging rights around Tinseltown and beyond. But if I were running a studio, I'd be pumping out horror flicks left and right for under $20 million a pop (as compared to the last "Avengers" flick reportedly costing $350 million) and watching the cash flow like blood cascading from the elevators in "The Shining."

The other beauty, if you will, of the horror model is that if done correctly you can spin off characters and storylines and even jump around through time to keep fans from getting bored with any particular franchise.

Say what you will about the movies in "The Conjuring" universe, but the studio and folks behind them have executed all of the above with smart precision. Kicking off with "The Conjuring" in 2013, that was followed by "Annabelle" a year later (which takes place before the first flick), "The Conjuring 2" (jumping forward past the first film), "Annabelle: Creation" (that's a prequel to the first evil doll flick), "The Nun" (which goes back beyond all of them), and "The Curse of La Llorona" (which is only tangentially connected, but temporarily resides before "Conjuring 2").

The films reportedly cost a bit north of $110 million to make combined, but grossed around fifteen times that worldwide. So, it's no surprise that we now have "Annabelle Comes Home," a film that's the third in that spin-off series but is set between the opening prologue and the main body of "The Conjuring."

Following a bit of creative stumbling with "Nun" and "La Llorona," this is a return to form for the series, featuring a streamlined storyline and more than enough taut and creepy/scary moments to satiate fans of the series and horror films in general. And with a production cost that couldn't be that much and likely a decent viewer appetite for such mayhem, the studio's probably already counting the money.

Unlike the evil in the recently released reboot of "Child's Play," the title character here isn't that active, at least on camera. Instead, and as mentioned in the second part of a prologue -- where Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) have a priest bless a glass display case to hold dear old Annie following an "I see dead" people opening -- we hear it's a conduit for evil.

With a room filled with related artifacts teaming with evil residue, we know it's only a matter of time once the main story kicks in -- set a year later -- for the big release of said bad stuff. Accordingly, it's time to cue the disrespectful teenager (Katie Sarife) who not only wants to snoop around the house once word has gotten out about the chosen vocation of the owners, but also needs to get into that room. And that's despite the objections of the couple's daughter (McKenna Grace) and her teenage babysitter (Madison Iseman) who thinks flirting with the cute boy (Michael Cimino) who works at the local supermarket is scary.

I liked the fact that writer/director Gary Dauberman has an ulterior motive for the snooping teen and that reveal gives the flick some emotional heft. But what most viewers are expecting and maybe hoping for is some supernatural mayhem to break out and that's what happens when Daniela gets into that room and gets that spooky train rolling down the tracks by opening the display case holding Annabelle.

What follows isn't anything we haven't seen before in such movies, but the filmmaker manages to milk some decent scares, jump scenes and even some comic relief from the material. In short, it's a pretty stripped down if generally effective horror flick featuring good performances all around (but Farmiga and Wilson only bookend the main proceedings). That said, with so many supernatural-related artifacts present, Dauberman could have really had fun upping the ante from one baddie to an even worse one and so on and so on, all with the three girls trapped inside.

What's present works for the most part, but you're sort of left with the feeling that it could have been so much more considering the simple setup. Even so, it's definitely a step up from the past two films in the genre and considering it's probably going to be successful, it will be just another stepping stone in this horror series that just keeps on giving. "Annabelle Comes Home" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed June 19, 2019 / Posted June 26, 2019

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