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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Annabelle Comes Home

“Toy Story 4” and “Midsommar” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

It was shortly after the release of the first “Annabelle” movie in 2014 that I learned the truth about the doll. First and foremost, it’s actually a Raggedy Anne doll and not the uber creepy porcelain monstrosity we see in the series. Second, that the drive home for Ed and Lorrraine Warren, played then and in “Annabelle Comes Home” by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, was a troubled one, complete with their car breaking down.

It’s one thing to think about what that might have been like—creepy doll in the back seat, dark, barely lit road, evil spirits abound, and having to get out and fix the car. It’s another to see it dramatized by director Gary Dauberman, who wrote the screenplay from a story by James Wan. The fact that the car breaks down in front of some cemetery gates and Lorraine, who is a magnet for the spirit world, draws the spirits roaming the graveyard to her, is I am sure a bit of Hollywood creative license. However, it is effective, and sets the right mood and atmosphere for the rest of “Annabelle Comes Home.”

Not that we jump into the scares and shocks right away. We first meet The Warren’s daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) and her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). It’s approaching Judy’s birthday and she’s having a tough time gathering friends to come now that her parents are famous and getting talked about—not always flatteringly—in the newspapers. None of this bothers Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife), who is a believer in the spirit world and has a deep and sad reason to try to make contact.

Since this isn’t a “Conjuring” movie (it just takes place in the same universe), Ed and Lorraine disappear for most of the movie. So let’s do the math: No adult supervision, a teenager with issues who wants to contact the spirit world, a locked room with demonic artifacts, and an evil doll locked in a glass case with a big, clearly written warning to never, ever, open it. What does that equal? Let’s put it this way: If otherwise well-meaning interlopers didn’t ignore warnings and make ill-advised decisions in these movies, they’d be awfully short.

There’s enough stuff with bad mojo in the Warrens’ private collection to give us a good variety of things that go bump in the night. “Annabelle Comes Home” does a marvelous job of setting them up and paying them off, for the most part. The success of the movie comes when all hell pretty much literally breaks loose and our three main characters, along with a boy named Bob (Michael Cimino), who has a crush on Mary Ellen, are terrorized. Each artifact has its own approach on how to haunt the one they’re preying on, so the set up for each scare is different. This gives the movie nuance and keeps us in the audience wondering what to expect next.

Sure, there are the occasional jump scares here and there, but the tactic is not abused and is greatly outclassed by all of the times in which Dauberman takes his time to build suspense. He’s skillful at creating a sense of foreboding and dread, and there are some scenes in this movie that are tense enough to pin your throat to the back of your chair. Plus the movie crescendos very well as the situation escalates, with a payoff that is satisfying and makes it worthwhile. The very end of the movie may feel a bit tacked on and undeserved, but that can be forgiven for the incredible well-crafted nightmare of a journey that comes before. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Toy Story 4

“Toy Story 4” has to be the most adult themed G-rated movie ever produced. In this installment, which sees Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz (voice of Tim Allen), and the gang now belonging to a new kid named Bonnie (voice of Madeleine McGraw) since Andy is now grown and off to college, we explore the heavy experiences of loss, heartbreak, doubt, regret, rejection, and longing. There’s also a new toy we meet named Gabby Gabby (voice of Christina Hendricks), who wants to do the toy equivalent of organ harvesting on Woody, which is pretty dark, so try to not think about it in those terms. Children will have a hard time relating to these concepts, but adults will understand.

Lucky for the little ones, there is still plenty of action and adventure to be had. These movies have always been a joy to watch as inanimate toys come to life and interact with the real world. Most of the time what they’re doing is rescuing some toy from somewhere, and this movie is no exception. It’s a sweet and sentimental adventure that hits all of the notes that fans of the series expect. It even injects some new blood—or fluff, to be more precise—with the addition of Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), two very welcome newcomers to the franchise who provide the biggest laughs. Someone has to lighten the mood with all of the saccharine sentimentality flowing through this movie. Rent it.

Midsommar

I appreciate “Midsommar” for portraying well-spoken characters who have mature, adult conversations. It’s a rarity in Hollywood to see and hear characters in a movie conversing in anything above a fifth-grade level. I applaud writer-director Ari Aster for trusting his audience to be able to keep up. I also applaud him for the stunning visuals in the movie’s pastoral setting of an isolated commune in Sweden. The nature shots look like a moving post card.

If only the movie wasn’t so sluggish in its pacing. While I do admire the cinematography, I also thought that shots lingered a bit too long before getting on with the story. Though to the movie’s credit, when something does finally happen it is usually quite shocking and downright gnarly in parts. The performances are all solid, particularly by lead actress Florence Pugh, who plays Dani, a young woman who goes to Sweden after suffering a devastating loss.

A someone who ranks the 1973 movie “The Wicker Man” as one of his favorites and has therefore seen similar situations and events to the ones portrayed in “Midsommar,” what happens, particularly at the end, was less of a shock to me. Though again to its credit, a typical Hollywood movie this is not. Make of that what you will, and if you have two and a half hours to spare and nothing better is available, Stream it.

More New Releases: “Red Joan,” the story of Joan Stanley, who was exposed as the KGB's longest-serving British spy, starring Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, and Ben Miles; and “Deadwood: The Movie,” based off of the HBO series, in which the characters are reunited a decade later to celebrate South Dakota statehood and old rivalries are reignited, starring Timothy Olyphant, Brad Dourif, and Ian McShane.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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