The foundation of Annabelle’s sinister nature is centered on the ultimate tragedy, the loss of a child, and just how far her parents would go to assuage their grief.
After a chilling cameo in The Conjuring, followed by a starring role in her own film, it became clear to filmmakers that moviegoers were ready to uncover the origins of the doll that has both terrified and captivated them. So, on the heels of his successful feature directing debut, last summer’s hit Lights Out, director David F. Sandberg was tapped to helm Annabelle: Creation, the next chapter in James Wan’s Conjuring universe produced by Peter Safran and Wan.
In “Annabelle: Creation,” several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a doll maker and his wife welcome a nun and six girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home. They soon become the target of the doll maker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.
Sandberg directed from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman, who also wrote “Annabelle.”
“I was already a big fan of ‘The Conjuring,’ it felt like a classic that stood out from a lot of other modern horror movies,” Sandberg says. “I remember I was really intrigued by that world and excited to do my own sort of classic take within the genre.”
David F. Sandberg was born in 1981 in Jönköping, Sweden, and fell in love with film at a young age. In his late teens he worked in a video store, which allowed him to both delve more deeply into his passion and save up money to buy his first camcorder. He began making short films and submitting them to festivals which eventually led him to intern at a local film center, Film i Jönköpings län.
In 2013, Sandberg realized he had slipped away from his original dream of making horror and sci-fi films and decided to begin making short horror films in his apartment with his wife, Lotta Losten. Their second short film, “Lights Out,” became a viral hit with over 100 million views and quickly began making waves in Hollywood, where it was snatched up by a studio. The short went on to win the Best Director Award in the Bloody Cuts Horror Challenge and play in many film festivals around the world.
Sandberg’s directorial debut, “Lights Out,” was an adaptation of his own 2013 short film. The film, in which a woman is haunted by a creature that only appears when the lights go out, stars Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello and was released on July 22, 2016.
Safran states, “David is a natural filmmaker and an extraordinary addition to this universe. He really understands how to craft scares and how to build characters. He sees the movie in a holistic manner—how every piece fits together—and he brings a really fresh perspective to the world of Annabelle.”
“When I was directing the first ‘Conjuring’ and we were designing the Warrens’ haunted artifact room, I remember between myself, the studio and the producers, we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘You know, it would be incredible if we could tell the stories of each of these objects,’” Wan recalls, referring to the collection the couple had confiscated over their years of paranormal investigation.
“Even then, we felt that giving Annabelle that prologue opening was cool, but we sensed she had a lot more stories to tell. Every time that doll appeared on screen for just those few minutes, people shifted in their seats. Audiences react to her.”
“It was clear that people hadn’t gotten their fill of Annabelle,” Safran adds. “They loved her. One of the comments we heard most was, ‘Who is Annabelle and where did she come from?’ We answered that question a little bit with the movie ‘Annabelle,’ but the origin story was the next logical place to go.”
To craft the story, the filmmakers turned to scribe Gary Dauberman, who had written “Annabelle” and was eager to dive back in.
“The first film I wrote extended the mythology of the doll,” he says. “For this one, we wanted to dig into her history and see if we could find out how the evil started.
“Dolls are things that bring people joy, right?” he continues. “They’re given as gifts, passed down through generations. So I wanted to set that up for Annabelle by starting her out from a place of love—a happy family—in order to sort of lay the groundwork for a nice contrast to all the bad stuff that would follow.”
With a toy taking center stage, kids seemed an appropriate addition to the tale. While batting around more ideas, Dauberman relates, “It was James who had the idea to make the kids orphans, and from there I had my playing field. Then I just had to figure out what it is about this particular doll that makes it so haunting and evil.”
Sandberg says the sense of dread already attached to her carried over to the set of “Annabelle: Creation,” revealing, “even the actors were a little wary around her, asking me, ‘Do I have to touch the doll? I don’t really want to touch it,’” he smiles.
In fact, at the request of certain cast members, the production brought in a Catholic priest to 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.”
Just in case.
The story opens in the mid-1940s, with the majority of the action set just over a decade later, in the mid-to-late `50s, accounting for the overall chronology already established in “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle.” And since Annabelle was created out of love—a father’s love for his daughter—Dauberman centered the foundation of her sinister nature on the ultimate tragedy, the loss of a child, and just how far her parents would go to assuage their grief.
Gary Dauberman wrote the screenplay for “Annabelle,” based on the seriously creepy doll that first appeared briefly in “The Conjuring.” “Annabelle” was a massive hit, generating over $37 million at the domestic box office in its opening weekend and continuing on to make more than $256 million worldwide—one of the most profitable films of 2014. Next, Dauberman penned the screenplay adaptation of Stephen King’s tome IT. Directed by Andy Muschietti, the upcoming film is one of the most anticipated of the fall, based on the record-breaking audience who viewed the online trailer.
Dauberman also wrote the script for “The Nun,” from a story he wrote with James Wan, set in “The Conjuring” universe. Dauberman is also serving as executive producer on the film, which recently wrapped production.
In television, Dauberman is currently adapting the Valiant graphic novel Dr. Mirage into a one-hour series for the CW.
Amplifying the aura of suspense in the film is the music. One song in particular adds a good deal to the allure of the film, at least for Janice, who is drawn to Bee’s off-limits bedroom when she hears the tune coming from the record player, the seemingly innocent “You Are My Sunshine.”
Sandberg was inspired by the contrasting nature of that tune with the story, and also the music of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. But it was “Annabelle: Creation” composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s score that helped him to create the ongoing and increasingly uncomfortable feel needed for the film.
“Ben was fully on board to do something unusual,” the director attests. “He even booked a session with a professional orchestra just to create weird sounds with their instruments, so we would have something unique to work with. We used a lot of it throughout the film.”
James Wan was thrilled with the manner in which Sandberg embraced and enhanced the horror-verse he began. “David has given this film a very classic period look that takes it outside of the traditional horror films we’re familiar with in contemporary cinema,” Wan says, “and I think that’s been the key to keeping this universe feeling fresh and unique. Each of these standalone movies has a very different flavor, yet they’re all connected.”
Peter Safran agrees. “What James has built and David has continued with ‘Annabelle: Creation’ are films that tap into the fears we hold in our very makeup, our DNA. We’re all drawn to the idea of this doll, this inanimate object that can somehow wreak such devastation.”
“These films are a great example of why we love to go to the movies,” Sandberg says. “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.”