‘Annabelle Creation’ is a prequel to 2014’s hit ‘Annabelle’ telling the origin story of the possessed doll. Critics are already calling it the best lm in the ‘Conjuring’ franchise. Director David F. Sandberg made his name with a number of acclaimed short lms before going on to make last years surprise smash hit ‘Lights Out’ .
How did you approach the filming of Annabelle: Creation?
My approach wasn’t that different from how Lotta Losten and I made our shorts back in Sweden. We’ve always let the location inspire our storytelling. This time I had a fantastic set designed by Jennifer Spence that was truly inspiring. It’s somewhat of a cliché, but I wanted the house in the film to feel like it was an important character. It’s a kind of purgatory for the characters; they’re stuck there
What went into the design of the house?
In the early scenes, we wanted the house to feel like a comforting and happy place. We even added digital leaves to the tree outside to make it look more rustic and welcoming. But after a tragedy hits Mr. and Mrs. Mullins – the characters played by Anthony LaPaglia and Mirando Otto – I wanted the house to feel like life had left it. Now, the trees are naked and scary-looking; within its desert surroundings, the house feels almost hellish. It’s super-hot and dusty and there’s no life in there, anymore. It’s just dead.
The house looks worn – the wallpaper, especially. The Mullins’s bedroom is especially dilapidated; that’s where Esther Mullins has been bedridden for many years and it’s just her and the room, which is rotting away.
Mrs. Mullins is almost like the monster behind the curtain because we don’t see her fully for a very long period of the film, and we don’t know what we’re going to find when we do see her. Was that fun for you to sort of create that suspense and tension?
I want to keep audiences guessing what’s behind her mask for as long as possible. We spent a lot of time on the design of the mask. The first designs we looked at had a lot of scars, but that was something that audiences would expect to see. I wanted it to hide wounds that had never healed because they are demonic in nature.
The design of the doll Annabelle had been established in the first film. But with this one, you get to explore her journey through different stages. How did you bring that into the design?
The “non-possessed” version of Annabelle looks like an inanimate object. When she’s possessed, her eyes become very lifelike. Our makeup effects house ADI is very good at that; when we visited their shop, I saw a gorilla and some monsters they created, whose eyes made it seem like there was a person inside the creature. I told ADI that that’s what I wanted for Annabelle. When this doll looks at you, it feels like there’s something behind those eyes; it’s more than an inanimate object.
Miranda Otto had said she didn’t want to be on the set with Annabelle because she felt like the doll was watching her. How did the younger actors react?
I think they were kind of okay with Annabelle, even though they admitted she was creepy-looking. It was Stephanie Sigman, who plays Sister Charlotte, who was most disturbed by the doll. She didn’t want to hold it and avoided Annabelle whenever possible. In fact, Stephanie had heard that for the first Annabelle, a priest had blessed the set, so she asked that our set be blessed, too. And it was.
How did you communicate with the young actresses who portray the orphans living in the Mullins’s home? There’s some scary and sometimes disturbing things happening around them in the story.
They were all so professional that it was never a problem for them to act in the heavy or scary scenes. The youngest of the actors, Samara Lee, who’s eight-years-old and a big horror fan. When I told Samara that she shares her name with a famous character in another horror film, she knew immediately what it was [The Ring]; in fact, she was named after that character!
Her favorite director is James Wan, who did the Conjuring films, and when The Conjuring 2 was released, Samara was among the first in line to see the film.
During our table read, Anthony LaPaglia asked Samara if our script was too scary. She replied, “No. I’m eight.” Samara wanted to do as much scary stuff as possible.
The score adds a lot to the film. Is this your first time working with a full orchestra?
Yes, and it was a great experience. The brass adds a lot to the scary moments, and we had a separate session with the string orchestra, where we had them explore weird sounds with violins and cellos. We used a lot of that in the movie. Some things the musicians wouldn’t do, for fear of ruining their expensive instruments.
The best part of being in a theatre with an audience watching the film is the series of three emotions they express: anticipation, when they’re whispering, “Is this thing coming?” or “No, don’t go in that room!”; when they get scared and jump and scream; and, finally, when they laugh with relief at each other for jumping and screaming. Then that’s what I’m hoping for.
ANNABELLE CREATION is now showing in Irish cinemas