4 Stars

The Warrens, Ed and Lorraine, investigated some of the most famous cases of hauntings, possessions, and demonic encounters ever recorded. They are generally considered to be the most prolific researchers of the paranormal in history. Since 2013, one of their cases that has become popular among audiences is the Annabelle doll. She has been featured in almost every film in The Conjuring Universe, and now she makes her return to the theater with the third chapter in her respective series, Annabelle Comes Home, featuring the directorial debut of the franchise’s longtime writer Gary Dauberman.

After coming to the aid of a pair of nurses who possessed the infamous doll, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) have taken it upon themselves to keep it locked away so the evil attached to it won’t harm anyone. However, during a rather eventful car ride home, Lorraine discovers, to her horror, that the demon is so powerful that it attracts the presence of other spirits, acting as a beacon for them. To make sure the spirits of the objects in their artifact room aren’t disturbed by the doll, the Warrens lock it away behind holy glass in an old church case. But evil can only be contained for so long.

A year later, after the events of The Conjuring, their 10-year-old daughter Judy (McKenna Grace) is struggling with possible psychic powers like her mother. When Ed and Lorraine leave for a day, she is left in the care of her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). However, Mary Ellen’s rebellious friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) is also along for the ride, but with her own agenda. Daniela intends to see inside the artifact room, and by doing so, unintentionally releases Annabelle, who uses the spirits of the room to unleash a terrifying wave of evil on the three girls.

The Conjuring Universe has become known for bringing back traditional horror films in a way that can entertain modern audiences. They rely more on psychological fear and building up dread than cheap jump scares and over-the-top violence. It’s what makes these films among the A-list level films in the genre, of which there are very few. And with this new film, the franchise concludes its first trilogy.

Annabelle Comes Home is by far the strongest entry in the universe since The Conjuring 2, featuring an Avengers-style crossover between old and new demons that is sure to delight and terrify fans of the franchise. The cast nails their respective roles, and we get a look at a barrage of new villains just waiting to receive their own spin-offs in the future. It also has a sort of heart to it that may even warm your heart, if something like that can even come from a horror film.

The one thing that makes The Conjuring Universe one of the better cinematic universes is their treatment of the films. Every movie in this franchise works as its own standalone story, never trying to tie into or further a much larger narrative like the Marvel universe. The same goes for this film. You don’t need to have seen any other film in the franchise to know what’s going on in this one. It gives you enough information so, if you are going into this one fresh, you’ll have a pretty good idea what’s going on.

After three years, it’s nice to see Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga back in the roles of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Their palpable chemistry is one thing that makes The Conjuring films so watchable. It was great to have them back in their roles for this film, and as short as their time was, they were easily the best part of the film.

The rest of the cast also does a great job. McKenna Grace, who’s talents can be ranked alongside the likes of Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) and Lulu Wilson (Annabelle: Creation), does a fantastic job as Judy Warren. And Iseman, who is rising through the ranks after her role in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, also does a great job as Mary Ellen.

The Conjuring Universe has also been known for its creative scares. In this film, we see some of the franchise’s most inventive ones yet. Dauberman uses the familiar setups from previous films, but then finds ways to really subvert your expectations. It’s a good thing because, as the series continues, there’s only so many kinds of scares you can pull off correctly. It’s nice that they’re already trying to find ways to reinvent themselves as they move forward.

Annabelle Comes Homes uses the established formulas of the universe to deliver a clever and inventive slice of horror that will please fans of the franchise, and even entertain newbies. It terrifies with some very inventive scares, great performances from the cast, and a loving tribute to Lorraine Warren that may bring a tear to your eye. With the introduction of so many new demons within the Warren’s museum, it’s safe to say that The Conjuring Universe has lots of new places to go, and will be staying with us for quite a while.