Director David F Sandberg: I don’t like the doll and got it taken out of the room
When director David F Sandberg took on Annabelle: Creation, the next chapter in the popular Conjuring universe, he pledged to put his own classic take on the horror genre. Gemma Dunn finds out why it's one of the most terrifying films of the year
It's been three years since horror fans were first introduced to Annabelle, and with a reputation to uphold, the demonic doll is now back to wreak devastation on more unsuspecting victims.
Continuing her rule in Annabelle: Creation, after a chilling cameo in The Conjuring and a starring role in her own film, the infamous 'toy' has not let up - and this time around movie-goers will be taken through her origins, from her first home in a little girl's room to her first possession of a little girl's soul.
The prequel - the next chapter in James Wan's Conjuring universe - picks up several years after the tragic death of the Mullins' (helmed by Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) little girl, Bee.
The dollmaker and his wife have decided to welcome a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and six girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, only for their guests to become the target of their possessed creation: Annabelle.
For director David F Sandberg (36), taking the reins was a no-brainer.
"I was already a big fan of The Conjuring," explains the Swedish star, hot on the heels of his successful directorial debut with 2016 hit Lights Out. "It felt like a classic that stood out from a lot of other modern horror movies.
"I remember I was really intrigued by that world and excited to do my own sort of classic take within the genre."
And he certainly has. Garnering rave reviews and praise from critics, Sandberg and the team explain why, when it comes to upping the scare factor, the devil really is in the detail.
CREATING THE SCARES
To create a big studio horror that's sure to have its audience head-in-hands, Sandberg knows only too well not to rely on just jump scares.
"You build towards them, because I think then it feels more earned than if you just have a big noise out of nowhere that makes people jump just because it's unexpected," reasons the filmmaker.
"The trick is to have people expect something to happen and still sort of scare them - like, 'Hey look over here' and then ... So it can be a challenge sometimes, and you have to sort of mess with the timing and the rhythm.
"And often you have to let there be silence in the movie," he counsels. "So you're not leading people along with the soundtrack and so forth."
THE DREADED DOLL
One figure that didn't have to pitch for gasps was Annabelle (left), with her ominous reputation causing quite a stir on set.
"David has got a very good relationship with the doll, but I don't and I am fine with it," declares former Bond girl, Sigman. "I was very creeped out and freaked out by the doll."
"I don't like the doll," Otto, (49), agrees. "I wanted it to be taken out of the room when we were rehearsing; I find it really creepy and sinister."
In fact, Sigman requested a Catholic priest bless the set and the prop Annabelle dolls, much as they did before cameras rolled on The Conjuring 2 and the most recent production, The Nun.
"I asked for it because I had to touch the doll," confesses Sigman, (30). "I didn't want to, but I had to because of the scenes I have with her. (I felt) a little bit more protected."
"I didn't even know that until recently," chimes Brisbane-born Otto, confessing she was fascinated with dolls as a child. "(But) nothing untoward happened when we were shooting ..."
IN THE MAKING
With an esteemed team of actors in the mix, at least, Sandberg was able to put much of his effort into working with the title 'character'.
"Being a doll, Annabelle doesn't move and we didn't want to use her in that way; you run the risk of her seeming silly," he justifies. "So it was a fun challenge to come up with different scares around that limitation.
"(Though) it's usually scarier to not show things than to show them," he adds. "Because the imagination will often be even better than any expensive rubber suit or CGI character."
For her third incarnation Annabelle was re-jigged by special effect giants, Amalgamated Dynamics Inc (ADI).
"They made a new version of the Annabelle doll, which was slightly tweaked from the earlier ones," Sandberg divulges. "Even James thought that the first Annabelle was almost a little too creepy in her appearance for this story, and he was right."
He adds: "I mean, what dad would make that doll for his child? So, ADI adjusted her so she looks a little less scary in certain situations, but in the right light, as scary as ever."
SETTING THE SCENE
Shot primarily on a soundstage in Warner Bros Studios, the possibilities were endless when it came to creating the Mullins' house - a two-storey design in the American Gothic farmhouse style inspired, in part, by production designer Jennifer Spence's tour of LA's Heritage Square Museum.
"When I first read the script and saw it was a period piece, I was super excited," recalls Spence, who also worked with Sandberg on Lights Out.
"I loved the idea of not having the things we're so used to, like cell phones," she says of the action, which for the most part takes place in the mid-to-late Fifties.
"There's no way to call 911 right in your hand. No computers, nothing ... just simpler times.
"I think that provides a scarier atmosphere in some ways, because we have so many options to get help now, whereas if you were on a farm in the middle of nowhere in the Fifties, and the one phone doesn't work, there's nothing much you can do."
OLD VERSUS NEW
Similarly, Wan was thrilled with the classic period look created by Sandberg, for the very reason that it takes the film outside of the traditional horror seen in contemporary cinema.
"I think that's been the key to keeping this universe feeling fresh and unique," he elaborates. "Each of these standalone movies has a very different flavour, yet they're all connected."
"These films are a great example of why we love to go to the movies," Sandberg concurs.
"It's a safe, shared environment where we can experience such a great range of emotions, from fear to excitement and more.
"And in this case, we get to find out how another piece of this 'Conjuring' and 'Annabelle' world is tied together and maybe even get a hint at what's to come.
"There's certainly more movies in this universe coming up, now we have The Nun coming next year," he teases. "I'm sure there's more to tell ..."
- Annabelle: Creation opens in cinemas today