It’s a crowded field for scary dolls right now, what with Chucky newly amuck and those ventriloquist dummies from “Toy Story 4” staggering through the multiplex. But there should be room for Annabelle, the wide-eyed freak-toy from the “Conjuring” world.
“Annabelle Comes Home” slots into the unfolding “Conjuring” hustle with extended cameo performances from Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, returning as real-life — yes, I’m sure all this actually happened — paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren.
A prologue shows the Warrens taking (you should pardon the phrase) possession of the demon-attracting doll. “The evil is contained,” intones Lorraine, putting an end to this unpleasantness.
Then the Warrens get out of town, to allow their young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace, from “Gifted”) and her babysitter (Madison Iseman) to spend a night in the house alone.
Alone. In the house. With Annabelle stored in a cabinet in the locked basement room that contains all the black-magic geegaws the Warrens have gathered in their long years of pitching the hoodoo.
Sure, the keys are left in plain sight on the desk in their office. But what are the chances the babysitter’s pal (Katie Sarife) will find the keys and go poking around in the locked room, deliberately tempting fate and doing a little spirit-raising?
If you have to ask that question, you don’t understand the mind of “Conjuring” chief James Wan, who penned the film’s story; original “Annabelle” screenwriter Gary Dauberman takes the writer-director duties this time. This movie revels in the haunted house conventions of people entering basements and opening forbidden doors.
For the most part, “Annabelle Comes Home” gets the job done within its shrewdly limited setting. It’s 1974, by the way, so the Warren house looks like the home of “The Brady Bunch,” except with more brown than avocado hues, and more demons. Although I always did wonder about the Brady house.
Some of the scares are well-earned (there’s a pizza-delivery guy who really nails the landing) and enough quirky ideas to keep things perking along, like the way a Badfinger record starts skipping at an especially suspenseful moment.
The young cast is decent, and Farmiga and Wilson saunter through as though sharing some kind of inside joke. It’s always been part of the appeal of these movies that their ghost-busting is treated as everyday employment. Need a poltergeist removal? Sure, we’ll get to that, after we fix the school lunches and give the car a tune-up.
Let’s say this: “Annabelle Comes Home” may not be a classic, but it’s at least an improvement over “The Curse of La Llorona,” Wan’s previous attempt to expand the “Conjuring” universe. Can we expect an Annabelle-Chucky crossover movie in the near future?
“Annabelle Comes Home” (2½ stars)
A generally well-managed haunted-house flick, as demon doll Annabelle gets loose while a babysitter tries to maintain order. Nothing too special here, but the scares are fairly earned and the young cast is decent.
Rating: R, for violence
Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall