What a spell for sentient toys. A week after the child-crafted plaything Forky found life in “Toy Story 4” and Chucky was reborn in “Child’s Play,” the evil vintage doll of the “Conjuring” spinoff series “Annabelle” is back, too, in “Annabelle Comes Home.” Surely, a tea party must be in the offing.
If movie theaters are starting to feel as cluttered as a kid’s play room, that pileup is nothing compared to the growing collection of movies from the extended Conjuring-verse. There have been eight films in the franchise in the last six years, with offshoots for “The Nun” and “The Curse of La Llorona.” Demonic forces turn out to be like Russian dolls. Open one up and out tumbles a trilogy.
Almost as a rule, the “Conjuring” movies are slavishly devoted to horror clichés, and it can feel like they’re simply going down a list: Creaking doors, check. Possessed playthings, check. Lots of crosses, check. How about a ghoulish bride? You got it. They collectively worship at the altar of William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” aping both its Catholic hokum and title font. These are proudly old-school movies composed of simple frights and legit craft.
They are also, for better or worse, almost comforting horror movies, safely sealed in a trope-filled movie world that doesn’t, like Jordan Peele’s films, claw at our own. That’s especially true of screenwriter-turned-director Gary Dauberman’s “Annabelle Comes Home,” which echoes as much with sincerity as it does screaming. It’s less scary than spooky, and you almost feel as though if these movies keep going, eventually Scooby and the gang are going to solve one of these mysteries.
What makes “Annabelle Comes Home” rise above its well-trod narrative are the actresses and Dauberman’s sensitive attention to each of them. Grace, in particular, is a standout with an obvious maturity beyond her years. And Sarife artfully combines a teenager’s rebelliousness with heartache.