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 moviegoers will be taken through her origins, from her first home in a little girl’s room to her first possession of a soul.
The prequel – the next chapter in James Wan’s Conjuring universe – picks up several years after the tragic death of the Mullins’ (Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto) little girl, Bee.
Still bereaved, 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, 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 details...
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, 36.
“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, 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,” admits 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...”
Magic 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.
“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 explains: “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.”
Annabelle: Creation is in cinemas now.