Spoiler Interview | David F. Sandberg on ‘Annabelle: Creation’ and ‘The Nun’

The director of the hit movie talks about the film's biggest scares and connections to the larger Conjuring universe.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

People, or so it has been said, hate creepy dolls. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at the box office. David F. Sandberg’s creepy doll thriller Annabelle: Creation annihilated the competition last weekend, with an impressive $35 million gross, proving once again that low budget horror thrillers are here, here to stay, and prone to being very, very good.

Indeed, David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation is one of the most entertaining supernatural thrillers in recent memory, a carnival funhouse ride of expertly crafted jump scares and unexpectedly horrifying images, with believable characters and a genuine sense of tragedy. If this is what we can expect from the expanded universe inspired by The Conjuring, then sign us up for The Nun, which premieres next summer on July 13, 2018.

I managed to get David F. Sandberg on the phone yesterday to talk about the creative decisions that went into making Annabelle: Creation, including how much input he had over the film’s direction and how interconnected it really is with The Nun. The interview gets into MAJOR SPOILER territory. You have been warned!

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Also: ‘Annabelle: Creation’ Review | Possession is 9/10th’s of the Doll

Crave: Okay, so you make Lights Out for Warner Bros. How does that lead to Annabelle: Creation? Did they just offer it to you, or did you pitch it…?

David F. Sandberg: Yeah, pretty much just a straight-up offer. We were in post-production of Lights Out so we hadn’t even quite finished it yet, but we had tested with audiences and they really liked it. It tested really well and the studio was very happy with it, so they asked me, would you want to do a sequel to Annabelle?

And you know, at first, before I read this script, I was a little like, well, you know… what are you going to do with that? Is it just going to be the same movie again? But then when they sent me the script I saw that it was very different from the first movie. New cast, new story and everything, so it felt like something I could make more of my own, you know?

How much of the story was in place? Was it everything we saw on-screen, or did you have an opportunity to make changes, and make it more of a David F. Sandberg joint?

The story is pretty much what it is now. There were some scenes I wanted to add, and then the scares I tweaked a lot to make my own, but the basic story was there.

What sort of scenes did you want to add?

Well, apart from the sort of scary stuff, one scene was the scene between Linda and Janice on the couch, before Janice gets possessed, because I felt like… I mean, Janice basically dies after that point. The Janice that we know never comes back. So I thought that we needed that whole moment between the two of the moment as a sort of goodbye, with them swapping dolls and that stuff. But other than that it was mostly scary stuff. [Laughs.]

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

One thing that surprised me was how much this film connected not just to The Conjuring but also to The Nun. Was that a creative decision from the company, or were these your ideas, to incorporate The Nun?

That was James Wan. It’s sort of a universe now, he wanted to have those references to that. References to The Nun, and that we use the same demon from the first Annabelle, and so on. So that was just sort of, yeah, to keep it feeling like it’s a longer universe.

Was it The Nun that wheeled Janice into the garage, or was that some sort of misdirect?

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? I think it’s sort of… I don’t know if it was Valac herself, but I think it also comes from the same evil, you know?

What about the scarecrow? Is that a separate entity, or is that Annabelle possessing the scarecrow? Is there a scarecrow spinoff in the works?

[Laughs.] I don’t think there is, no. I mean, the idea is that all these things are happening [are] coming from the same evil, that just takes various shapes around them and does whatever it can to mess with them. So yeah, the scarecrow is basically the same evil.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

At the beginning of the film we see Anthony LaPaglia put together an Annabelle doll, and we see that she’s part of a set of 100. I have a theory now that there are 100 possessed Annabelle dolls out there in the world. Or at least 100 Annabelle dolls that prone to being possessed.

Yeah, yeah, so we can keep doing these movies forever. [Laughs.] There can be Annabelle dolls all over the world!

When you think about it, in the first Conjuring, the nurses invited a demon to possess the Annabelle doll, and then we saw a different Annabelle doll possessed in Annabelle, and we saw a DIFFERENT Annabelle doll possessed in Annabelle: Creation.

I think it’s still the same doll in the first Annabelle and in The Conjuring. […] The way I see it at least, it’s a different doll in Annabelle: Creation and the others, because she also looks a little bit different, she has a slightly different design. So that’s one way to explain that. But I think the idea is that it’s the same between Conjuring and Annabelle.

Are these the sorts of conversations you’re having behind the scenes? Do you know the whole Conjuring mythology? Or are they still figuring it out over time?

I mean, they certainly know more than me. I saw sort of the timeline they have made for where The Nun fits into it and all of that. They told me some of it, you know. I knew what I needed to know. But yeah, I don’t even know the whole story.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

It’s just interesting to me because most horror stories take place in the real world, and then there’s just one horror element. In the Annabelle and Conjuring franchise there are all kinds of different entities out there. I wonder how that affects you as a storyteller.

It certainly helps when you’re doing Annabelle, because the rules are that you can’t see her move. She doesn’t walk around. She’s not Chucky. So you have to come up with these things to happen around her, and what shapes evil will take around her. It helps with how you can scare people. You can only get so much from “Oh, the doll turned its head when you looked away,” you know?

There is one scare in particular that I did not see coming, specifically because I knew there was that rule, that we couldn’t see Annabelle move. It’s towards the beginning where we see Annabelle out of focus in the background, or something like Annabelle, moving.

Yeah.

Can you tell me about that shot? Was that pushing the rules?

Yeah, well, you mean when [Janice] is standing by the window and Bee is out of focus walking towards her?

Yeah.

Yeah, I mean, that’s why we had Bee look very similar to Annabelle with the hair and the dress […], so in moments like that we could have Bee walk, but you’re not really sure if it is Bee or Annabelle. And then we could do a little cheat, like when we threw the sheet over Annabelle and then have the sheet walk around, so you don’t actually see her walk around, but you know, she could be doing it.

You do some really fantastic things with negative space in this film, where the right side of the screen is just pitch black because it’s night, and it’s shadow, and you’re just waiting for something to pop out over there. It doesn’t look like you’re finding scares in the editing room. It looks like everything is very meticulously planned in your films.

Yeah, it is planned, but sometimes you do find things in the editing room. Like the thing where [Janice] is about to go down the chair lift, and the darkness just sort of seeps out and takes over the room? That was a late idea. And also even the half Mrs. Mullins, when she’s hanging up on the wall and it’s half the body, we shot it with the whole body and then in the edit I felt like there needs to be something more here, it’s not enough. I was sort of joking with Michel [Aller], the editor, that maybe they just find half of Mrs. Mullins. But she didn’t laugh, she was more like, “Yeah…!” And I was like, alright, let’s try that. Because of that we shot that whole extra scene with Linda, when she sees half of Mrs. Mullins crawl towards her. So you know, some things you do come up with in post.

Top Photo: Michael Tran/FilmMagic

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.