Annabelle Creation takes The Conjuring’s terrifying doll back to her very beginning
Although The Conjuring may not be the first film franchise that comes to mind when considering big-screen continuity, Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema are steadily building their own cinematic universe from the world of James Wan‘s 2013 horror hit. While The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 follow the adventures of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) in the 1970s, the 2014 film Annabelle took us back in time to explore an earlier story of the iconic doll in the late 1960s. Now, Annabelle Creation, in theaters August 11, will take us back even further and show us how Annabelle’s story began.
“I think the idea always, right from the get go, was to create a universe, but you don’t go out and tout that as being the goal,” producer Peter Safran told ComingSoon.net when we visited the Annabelle Creation set last year. “You start off by just making one good movie. But the idea was certainly that using the Warrens’ life rights and access to their cases, that would be a really good starting point.”
Oddly enough, the doll that many fans associate as the face of the franchise almost didn’t appear in The Conjuring.
“It was actually James Wan who suggested putting Annabelle into the opening of the original ‘Conjuring,'” Safran explains. “It was not in the script when he came on board as director… After the first [Conjuring] came out, we had so much fan interest in Annabelle, both because she was already a well-known entity, but also I think people liked what we did with her in the first movie. A lot people were really interested in her background, her origins, where she was and where she’s going.”
Taking the director’s chair on Annabelle Creation is David F. Sandberg. No stranger to horror, he made his feature film directing debut with last year’s Lights Out.
“He crafts scares in such a beautiful manner and it’s so authentic to him,” Safran continues. “You watch his shorts on Vimeo, it’s what he does. So making this movie with him, it’s been a blast. He’s so prepared… He brings his organic, authentic love of scary movies and crafting scares.”
“To me, it’s a lot less pressure because it’s not my first,” says Sandberg. “With ‘Lights Out,’ I was like, ‘Oh, this is my shot at Hollywood, this is it!’ Whereas now I’m like, ‘I’ve been on a film set, I know how it works.'”
For Annabelle Creation, a entire artificial two-story home was constructed on a soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, CA. There, the majority of the story’s action takes place. Beginning in 1945, we meet the Mullins, a doll maker and his wife (played by Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto), who are parents to a young girl that meets with an untimely demise. Jumping ahead to 1957, Annabelle Creation explores what happens when the Mullins, having grieved for more than a decade, decide to open up their home to a nun (SPECTRE‘s Stephanie Sigman) and a small group of orphans.
“‘Lights Out’ was all on location, so it was so fun to come here where you can take walls out and you can do whatever you want,” says Sandberg. “You can say ‘just take this wall out’ so you can really design it and put all these things in like a dumbwaiter and a little hide out beneath the stairs. It’s awesome because you get to come up with a lot of new stuff.”
“Well there’s no damn cell phones,” Sanberg laughs, “so they can’t call for help. It’s just creepier to have it in the past. I mean it’s not that far in the past, but just the aesthetics of it.”
Adding to the vintage aesthetic are two elements that connect the floors of the house. On the stairs, there’s an early wheelchair lift, while, elsewhere, floors are connected by a dumb waiter. As one might suspect, both will play important roles in the Annabelle Creation story.
“On ‘Lights Out,’ I wanted to be super prepared,” says Sandberg. “That’s why I did all these storyboards. I wanted it to be super cinematic… Then you realize that things change anyway. Once you’re on set, you get new ideas when you see things a certain way.”
In the case of Annabelle Creation, Sandberg even drew inspiration from a dream he had.
“It was like I was watching a scene in the film,” Sanberg recalls, “…I dreamed that [Linda] had a little gun with a reel on it and a ball on a string. You reel that in, and it tightens the string and then you shoot it out. I had this dream of her shooting it out into this dark room, and sort of reeling it out, and it got stuck because something was in the dark or whatever. I woke up and I wrote that down in my phone and sent it to Gary [Dauberman] and I was like, “Hey, can we put this in the movie?” and now it’s in the movie.”
Linda, one of the orphan girls, is played by Lulu Wilson, who horror fans will remember from another recent period horror sequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil.
“[Horror] is the most fun, I think, out of all the genres,” says the young actress, “Because it’s a lot of action, but also a lot of drama… I love screaming. I scream all the time in real life too. If someone jumps out at me, I scream for like a minute.”
Already a horror movie aficionado, the ten-year old cites M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense as her current favorite. She has not yet been given parental permission, however, to watch The Conjuring.
“Linda is 10 years old, like me, and she has just come to a new orphanage,” says Wilson, “She’s not really sure about it, because she sees the doll and it really freaks her out. But her best friend, Janice, is kind of trying to help her get used to it.”
Janice is played by Talitha Bateman, the sister of Lights Out actor Gabriel Bateman.
“Janice has suffered from polio, so now she has to walk with a cane and leg brace,” says the 14-year-old star. “She kind of has this deep sadness to her because all the girls she sees running around and playing can all move without a leg brace. They kind of make fun of her about that, so that only one that cheers her up is Linda. She kind of takes cares of her and Linda also kind of takes care of Janice, so their relationship is very strong throughout the whole movie.”
Among the other young stars of Annabelle Creation is producer Peter Safran’s own daughter, Lou Lou.
“She auditioned under a fake name and nobody knew and then she just got selected,” says the elder Safran. “It just came to be about six orphan girls moving into this farmhouse and some of them were her age, so she expressed an interest. She had played the daughter of Teresa Palmer in the Nicholas Sparks movie, ‘The Choice’ … She actually dressed up as Annabelle in 2014, when ‘Annabelle’ came out, for Halloween. She’s lived the ‘Annabelle’ world for longer than most.”
After Annabelle Creation hits in August, there plans to continue the franchise with The Nun, spinning out of the events of The Conjuring 2. There are even hints about The Nun, set for release July 13, 2018, in the new film.
“New Line has been very supportive about doing a modestly-priced spinoff that if we made a really good movie it would go out on 3,000 screens and if we didn’t it would probably never see the light of day,” says Safran. “Fortunately, we made a movie that tested extremely well and that was the beginning of it all. When it came time to do ‘Conjuring 2,’ we wanted to plant spinoff opportunities, because you never really know what’s going to capture the audience’s imagination… ‘The Nun’ really was the one that everyone gravitated towards and so that was it.”
Then there’s a third Conjuring film in the works, although a specific story has not yet been revealed.
“Clearly we can’t do another haunted house movie,” says Safran. “We can’t do a supernatural possession in a house with a family in peril. It’s gotta be something different. There are a lot of places to go… There are some [Warren cases] that maybe aren’t as well known.”
At the moment, James Wan is in Australia shooting the DC Comics adaptation Aquaman. Behind the scenes, however, a lot of the same people that worked on the Conjuring films are also involved with Annabelle Creation.
“In terms of bringing on crew, we draw from the ‘Conjuring’ universe,” Safran continues. “Most of these people came from the Wan camp or the ‘Conjuring’ camp or some people were on ‘Lights Out.’ Even though we’re making [these movies] for a modest price, it’s been no problem at all getting the highest level of crew.”
The Annabelle Creation cast also includes Philippa Coulthard (After the Dark), Grace Fulton (Badland), Samara Lee (Foxcatcher, The Last Witch Hunter) and Tayler Buck in her feature film debut. Look for the film to hit the big screen August 11 and check back for updates on the Conjuring cinematic universe as they become available.