There’s no shortage of ghouls in The Conjuring universe and if Annabelle Comes Home is any indication, there’s no shortage of fog machines either. The seventh instalment in the overall extended universe (the fifth chronologically), Annabelle Comes Home is drenched with atmosphere and is, perhaps, the most ghastly chapter to date.

With Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga returning as the Warrens, the film might as well serve as The Conjuring 3. It’s a strange and twisted franchise that has woven its way into modern cinema for better or worse, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Taking place between The Conjuring and The Curse of The Weeping Woman, the story depicts how the infamous doll came into the Warrens’ possession, and focuses on their young daughter Judy (McKenna Grace), whose night with her babysitter turns into a nightmare when the sitter’s best friend arrives and releases Annabelle from her glass cabinet.

The opening scene is wonderful, with Lorraine (Farmiga) and Ed (Wilson) breaking down beside a cemetery on a cold and dreary night. With the evil doll perched upright in the backseat, their car is draped with fog as the dead begin to surround them. The film’s tone is well and truly established and a bold crimson text scroll reminds us of the real characters who inspired the whole saga. From this moment on, Annabelle Comes Home adheres to a stock-standard ‘haunted house’ formula, presented across three very distinct acts.

The leisurely first act reacquaints us with the family and establishes their seemingly normal home life. Judy is a smart but shy girl who endures daily torment from bullies at school, and we are reminded of the evil contained within their house. The second introduces the sitter’s friend as well as a potential love interest, and the release of Annabelle. The rest of this middle-section is comprised of eerie tropes and spooky clichés.

With very little payoff to the suspense, the film begins to shows signs of fatigue before the final act swoops into action, switching gears and upping the ante with the kind of horror show one would expect from a Goosebumps tale, because every evil trinket in the house was touched by the nosey teens and their night is haunted by an assortment of spooks.

Where all previous Conjuring films have featured traditional ghosts, like The Nun and the Weeping Woman, Annabelle Comes Home delivers monsters aplenty, as though paying homage to The Monster Squad and Thirteen Ghosts. From murderous brides and samurai warriors, to werewolves and hideous centaurs, the finale of the film is a thrill-a-minute freak show full of delicious goodies to compensate for the lacklustre build-up.

Regular Conjuring universe screenwriter Gary Dauberman makes a confident directorial debut here, having nurtured the franchise from birth. His use of sound stage exteriors and confined spaces drive the film’s atmosphere, giving it a far greater richness of texture than preceding chapters. His ghosts, while not particularly scary, are a lot of fun and his enthusiasm for the genre is evident.

Farmiga and Wilson’s return brings gravity to the story and restores whatever credibility was lost during the previous two spin-off films. Their characters bookend the movie nicely, leaving room for the newcomers to lead the way throughout the lengthy middle act. The young cast meets the challenge and has a clear understanding of the themes and nuances that go into making a decent horror movie.

Long serving fans will either rejoice at the return to form, or feel challenged by the new ensemble of mythical beasts, and while Annabelle Comes Home doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original Conjuring film (or its sequel), it remains a worthy addition and a high concept spectacle.

In cinemas: June 27, 2019
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace
Directed by: Gary Dauberman