Annabelle 3 is a well-designed and worthy addition to the Conjuring universe

Here’s a word rarely used to describe mainstream horror movies: class. This is exactly how I would describe Annabelle comes home and that’s a favorable attribute to that, one of the best in the growing and above all awesome universe of “Conjuring Universe”.

Judy (played by Mckenna Grace) is the sweet but lonely daughter of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (played by franchise MVPs Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson). Mary Ellen (played by Madison Iseman), who is aware of Judy’s reputation as a “scary” girl in school, doesn’t care. An uninvited guest shows up, snoops around in the forbidden Warrens’ basement, and releases the clearly dangerous Annabelle doll from the display case with the sign clearly marked “Warning – Do not open”.

What follows looks like a smaller scale and more contained variation on the third act of ghost hunters, when the storage facility opens and lets out all the bad ghosts. Annabelle comes home is some kind of demonic Alone at home and manages to let his young actors follow the story.

That’s the working definition of a slumber party movie, the kind of horror flick that’s brave enough to watch that horror flick that will resonate with teenage babysitters. Helping Things Dramatically is an effective and hugely fun subplot, in which Mary Ellen’s crush (played by Michael Cimino, another find) stops and awkwardly expresses her affection.

Despite a flashy opening scene and their significance to the franchise, Farmiga and Wilson only give extended cameos that end the movie. The protagonists are three young women and they are wonderful. Grace, in particular, is excellent, evoking an inner strength but a weariness experienced by the profession of her parents and a vulnerability that arises from a paralyzing loneliness. She goes well with Iseman (much stronger here than Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, where she just made silly blonde jokes) and a spot on Katie Sarife; these three carry the film and make their protagonists likable and relatable, even as they slowly walk down underlit hallways that lead to a certain destiny.

Despite an R rating, it lacks real violence and only shows a quick glimpse of all things gory from a distance. The rating relates to the level of intensity, which is considerable. Like the best of these works produced and / or written by James Wan, it’s all about atmosphere and suspense for a solid hour, then unleashing aggressive scares and big payouts. Particularly daunting is a moment when the doll is seen through different color filters, each revealing a changing figure.

Plans to expand this franchise seemed uncertain, following the terrible The nun and this year The curse of La Llorona (the latter has a strong opener but quickly disintegrates). Still, both were massive box office hits. Annabelle comes home is a return to form: a sleek, extremely well-crafted throwback to ’70s supernatural horror films that emphasized psychological fear rather than gore and guts.

Some of the fears of jumping are shameless even for this genre, and it’s an eyesore to try everything out, as a possessed samurai costume, haunted TV, and a monster dog absurdly show up at one point. Still, devilish imagination isn’t lacking here: a new character, called “The Ferryman,” with a tendency to drop coins as a calling card, is as thrill-worthy as The Nun (who still needs a appropriate cinema vehicle).

As a (for now) killer doll movie trilogy, there’s a lot to admire here. While the middle chapter, Annabelle: Creation, is the scariest and most well-produced, the underrated debut entry has (pun intended) one of the most gruesome opening scenes in any 21st century horror movie. The filmmakers are inexperienced but talented (Gary Dauberman makes an impressive directorial debut with Annabelle comes home), getting a lot of extended mileage from a villain who never moves and has the same evil look on his face. There will be deeper and deeper horror movies this year, but few will be as effective and efficient as this one.

Three stars

Rated R / 106 min.

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