There’s something truly terrifying about a creepy doll that you just feel has some sort of sinister purpose, or that somehow it can see deep into your soul, and the infamous Annabelle is the stuff of nightmares. Annabelle Comes Home is the third installment of the hugely successful Annabelle films, set in The Conjuring universe, and this one tells the story of what happened when demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) brought the doll home to place it behind sacred and blessed glass in the locked artifacts room in their home, only to have it awaken evil spirits that set their sights on the Warrens’ young daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace).
On November 14, 2018, Collider (along with a handful of other online outlets) was invited to the set on the Warner Bros. Studios lot in Burbank, Calif., to tour some of the sets and watch Gary Dauberman take the helm of his first feature as a director, after having previously written the scripts for Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation and The Nun. While there, we got to see just how detailed the interior of the two-story Warren house is, with its front porch and back patio, garage, full kitchen cupboards that will likely never even be opened, and skylights even though it’s indoors on a soundstage. We also got to explore the artifacts room, seen in previous films, that Annabelle calls home and that’s filled with so many items, on every shelf and in every corner, before taking a picture with the encased doll for a haunting souvenir.
During our time on set, we did interviews with some of the cast and creative team, who talked about the experience of shooting a horror film set in a different time period with a creepy doll at the center of it. Here is a collection of 20 things that we learned about the production, during our visit to the set of Annabelle Comes Home, out in theaters on June 28th.
The idea to hone in on the Warren family for this third film in the Annabelle franchise came from franchise producer James Wan. After that kernel of an idea, Wan and director Gary Dauberman flushed out the overall structure together, and figured out who would be involved and what the larger movements of the story would be, ultimately landing on starting things off when the Warrens bring Annabelle home to the artifacts room, which sets up everything that follows. They’ll actually be going back to the footage of the original The Conjuring for that moment, and Annabelle Comes Home falls in the timeline between The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2.
- Even though Dauberman is not a huge fan of horror comedy, he does love some comedy in his horror, so the film will have moments of levity. “I’m trying to land the moments that people laugh, and then they get scared, right away. I’ve been playing around with that, a little bit more. It fits the girls ‘cause they’re so upbeat. We’re trying to capture that teenagers alone in the house thing. We’re not going outside the box on this one, but we’re trying to get a couple more moments of levity that maybe weren’t there, in the first and second films.”
- Dauberman wanted to work with DP Michael Burgess because he feels that he’s really a director, at heart, as well. “There’s no one else I’d want in the trenches with me, doing this . . . He’s got a lot of great ideas. One of my favorite parts of the process is collaborating with him, and figuring out cool shots and things that excite us. We’ve done the creaky door, so it’s about how we can subvert expectations.”
- The film’s primary focus is on Judy Warren, the young daughter of Ed and Lorraine, played by Mckenna Grace, and you will get to see her relationship with her babysitter Mary Ellen, played by Madison Iseman. They have a really good relationship, and are like sisters to each other. Judy feels safe and happy with Mary Ellen. Because Mary Ellen is very close with the Warrens, she feels a huge responsibility to make sure that Judy is taken care of. As a caretaker, she takes on the burden of everyone else.
- Mary Ellen is a pure, spiritual person, so when all of the demonic stuff comes into play, she’s shut off to everything in that world. “It’s like, if I don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist, in her mind,” said Iseman. “So, when things start happening, she doesn’t really want to believe they’re actually happening, in the first place, until she finally accepts that, ‘Okay, yeah, it’s happening.’”
- Daniela, Mary Ellen’s best friend, played by Katie Sarife, is a fun and fun-loving young woman who speaks her mind and pushes Mary Ellen out of her comfort zone. She is really interested in the afterlife because she lost her father.
Dauberman said that collaborating with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson was one of the most memorable things he’s gotten to experience in his career. “One night, we were out on location, outside of the exterior Warren house. They showed up on set, dressed as Ed and Lorraine Warren, and you could feel the energy shift and change, as they stepped out like that. For everybody, there was an electricity in the air. Because James fosters that collaborative process, they were super supportive and had some great ideas. They were like, ‘What if you did this? Would it be better, if you did that?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, it would be better. That’s actually a great idea. Let’s do that.’ They seemed to be very happy, back in those clothes and back together. The chemistry between them is evident in all of the movies . . . It was really great to be able to work with them.”
- Although this film will have a lot of connections to the other films, that are there to be picked up by fans of this universe, it is also a stand-alone film. If you’ve seen the other movies, you’ll be familiar with who Judy is and with the artifacts room, but it will also be built out in its own chronological story that anyone can follow.
- In order to keep the supernatural at bay, they had a priest come give a set blessing. After also blessing, Grace, Iseman and Sarife, he also gave Grace a rosary that was blessed by Pope Francis. Prior to the set blessing, Grace had an unexplained incident where she got a nose bleed doing rehearsal that stopped just as mysteriously as it started. Once the blessing happened, nothing creepy happened on set again.
- In keeping with the film’s supernatural/paranormal theme, Sarife wanted to book the role of Daniela so badly that she lit an intention candle to help things along. “I had a good feeling, but I wanted to make myself feel more confident, so I went out and bought a success candle. You write your intention on a piece of paper, and mine was obviously, ‘Let’s book Annabelle.’ And then, you light it with the light from the candle and let it burn. The candle was burning, and the rim of the candle and the glass was all on fire. The flames were dancing for about a minute and 30 seconds. It was so creepy. And then, the next thing I knew, the candle was out, so I relit it, but it went out again. And then, I relit it one more time, and it went out again. I thought I was gonna be haunted, or something, but the next day, I found out that I booked it. Apparently, candles will go out, if your intention is already fulfilled, or you’re just not gonna get it. In my case, it worked in my favor. I was a little creeped out by that, but it was awesome.”
- Dauberman was very collaborative and invited thoughts, ideas and suggestions from his actors. Said Sarife. “Any thoughts that you have, he actually hears them out, and if he feels it fits the character, then he’ll implement them. I like to say that he’s an actor’s director. He’ll work things out with you, and anytime you have a question, he’s just right there.”
The film has a mix of practical and digital effects. Said Iseman, “It’s actually very cool, a lot of things have been tangible. It’s weird and spooky. It’s really creepy when you can actually see it, as opposed to having to just pretend it’s there. Of course, then they add the special effects in, and it’s even more terrifying on screen. It’s a cool mix of both.”
- Much like their characters are creeped out by Annabelle, the film’s young actresses are also creeped out by dolls. Grace isn’t a fan of one of her own mother’s dolls. “Jenny was my mom’s doll, from whenever she was a little girl . . . [She’s] like our own little Annabelle, who lives in our garage. It’s so creepy because [my mom] shaved its head. The hair was really short, and then she cut off the bangs, so it was all sticking up. It’s a really creepy doll! It lives in the garage now.” And Sarife won’t allow dolls in the room, when she goes home to visit her family, after growing up with a cabinet full of porcelain dolls.
- 12-year-old Grace is a big fan of horror films and watches them with her dad, all the time. Her favorite is The Shining, which is also a favorite of Sarife and Iseman, who’s also a fan of The Ring and The Grudge. They’ve also watched the previous films, especially in preparation for this one.