annabelle comes home

Katie Sarife stars as Daniela in the new horror film “Annabelle Comes Home.”

Let’s face it. There’s nothing creepier than an evil doll that comes to life. Plenty of horror flicks have been based on our irrational fears of these plastic creatures as they try to kill us in the middle of a stormy night.

Chrissy and even Mrs. Beasley haunted my childhood, and now “The Conjuring” franchise continues with the creepiest, most evil doll ever named Annabelle in “Annabelle Comes Home.”

If you’re a typical moviegoer, it’s tough to keep the “Insidious” films or “It” movies separate from “The Conjuring.” Luckily, with “Annabelle Comes Home,” this movie stands alone; no need to watch any of the previous films or recall any information or history at all.

The film takes place in the 1970s, and I’m going to guess 1975 because I remember the styles well. Most of the movie takes place inside the Warren family’s home, complete with amber-colored plastic insert dividers, very busy flowered wallpaper and slate and linoleum flooring tiles in the split-level style house.

We are introduced to Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson), who are demonologists, transporting a unique evil beacon called, you guess it, Annabelle. Triple blessed and locked away, “the evil has been contained.” Well, until someone unlocks it, of course.

Lorraine and Ed’s young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) is different — much like her mother — and is bullied at school as word of her parents’ occupation gets out.

Ed and Lorraine hire the beloved babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), to watch Judy overnight. Mary Ellen is a rule follower, but her best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) certainly isn’t, and after she invites herself over, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

This is a classic horror movie filled with all the typical techniques that are fail-proof when it comes to making you jump or gasp.

The lights go off unexpectedly, the creepy items are there and then disappear, and they always have to reach under a bed. Never reach under a bed at night. Ever.

While there are many, many familiar horror tropes, there are a few unique surprises in telling this story that revolve entirely around three young females fighting off soul-sucking demons.

We know how the story is going to go, but there are a few subplots that keep the film fresh. From an adorably awkward crush that Mary Ellen and Bob (Michael Cimino) have on each other to Judy’s struggle with her classmates, these side stories pleasantly shake up the pace and create characters we care about. We really don’t want them to be eaten alive by the werewolf.

Grace carries the story, but the heavy lifting is shared by Iseman and Sarife. Grace has those expressive eyes that are perfectly suited for conveying fear around every corner as well as sadness. But she can light up a room with her smile and a twinkle in those baby blues. Together, they balance the scenes, each creating a different cornerstone for a strong foundation of a film that is fun, scary and, at times, cute and silly.

As with any successful horror film, the cinematographer and editor are as important as the characters and the director. Great lighting, sharp edits capturing just the right elements in time and camera angles that bring you into the scene; walking the halls and seeing the goblin in the mirror are the pillars of a scary flick and “Annabelle Comes Home” does just that.

From one of the opening scenes as the night grows long and the fog rolls in, your heart involuntarily races as the car breaks down right by a cemetery. What are the chances? The special effects are impressive throughout the film, but they don’t overload the story to make it too heavy-handed.

Gary Dauberman nimbly co-writes and directs this textbook creepy cinematic creation that will certainly fuel the fires of fear of inanimate plastic dolls.

Annabelle is right up there with Chucky from “Child’s Play”, the Zuni doll from “Trilogy of Terror (1975), the clown from “Poltergeist” (1982), Willie from “The Twilight Zone” (1962) and let’s not forget “Toy Story 4.”

3 stars

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