Annabelle Comes Home will tie together many of the disparate elements of the Conjuring universe, giving horror fans their best look yet at the haunted objects locked away in the artifact room of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The film also marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who wrote the previous two chapters in the Annabelle series. He met with members of the press, including CBR, during a visit to the edit bay for Annabelle Comes Home, reflecting on what he learned from previous collaborations, what defines a good film scare, and what he really wanted to explore with the Warrens in this film.
The core concept, as explained by Dauberman, is what happens "when [Annabelle] comes into contact with these other artifacts inside the room. Nothing good happens."
The artifact room allows the film to be easily connected to the other films in the Conjuring universe. However, that's not what excited Dauberman the most about the project.
"Annabelle: Creation really focused on the mythology, the origin and the creation of the doll," he said. "With this one, I really wanted to dig into the Warrens a little bit. It's nice to see them, just for a minute, not talking about a paranormal investigation. To see them as just two people who are married and in a relationship, [Ed's] got a terrible sense of direction, things like that. To just have them be, for a moment, normal.
"It's kind of a thematic element throughout the movie because I thought a lot about what it would be like to have [Ed and Loraine] as your parents," Dauberman continued. "To grow up and have these two special people as parents, and what that pressure that was like. When you're a kid, you just want to be like everyone else. And the Warrens are nothing like everyone else. They're so different and unique, and what that must have been like for [Judy]. That's sort of the mythology I'm thinking of for the movie. What we learn about the doll, I feel like we've told that story a little bit in [Annabelle: Creation], so this one I wanted to branch off into different directions... I really wanted Judy first and foremost to feel like a kid. To go through the things I would think about.
"The real Judy Warren came on set, and it was great to get to talk to her, to find out about her as a person and not just in the context of her parents. That's tough with all kids, because you're always kind of in the shadow of your parents and what they do and don't do. That's always looming over you. The Warrens tried to give her a normal life, and I hope that sort of comes across in the movie. I wanted Judy to feel well-rounded. While she's going through stress and pressure, I wanted her to also be playful and having fun with Mary Ellen. Most of all, I wanted her to feel like a kid. Sometimes kids can compartmentalize things, I think Judy has been good about that. And that's going to come back to haunt her. Literally."
This is the first of the Annabelle films to really bring the Warrens into the orbit of the cursed doll, and the first to feature Judy Warren as the main character.
"I don't think it causes any brand confusion, because the Warrens are the brand," Dauberman said. "They really are, even when they're not in the movie they sort of weirdly have a presence because they're the ones who launched it all. So it's just a really unique opportunity to bring those two worlds together, even though they're all in the same universe. It was such an amazing opportunity to have Patrick [Wilson] and Vera [Farmigla] in the movie, and they're so awesome. As a first-time director, to have people who are so at the top of their game and can do no wrong, it was awesome. It was great."
Reflecting on the experience of directing a major film for the first time, Dauberman shared that, "It was a lot of different things. It was challenging, it was amazing, it was a ton of work but I think we put a lot of work into all these movies so I wasn't a stranger to that. Over the last couple of years, working with James [Wan], he's so open to questions. He's such a great teacher in this regard, what it takes to be a director. The work he puts into things, the talent and specificity he gives things. It's something I've really learned over the years. And then just working on the Annabelle films, on the first one with John R. Leonetti, who was James' [director of photograpny], just standing by the side and watching him do his thing. And becoming friends with David S. Sandberg during the Annabelle: Creation process. He's his own force of nature in terms of talent, so you kind of just, it was just the best education. I just tried to take what I learned from them and apply it to this, and hopefully not let them down."
"I knew going in I was going to direct [Annabelle Comes Home], and that changed my approach to writing the script," Dauberman said. "When you write a script, the reader is your first audience. you try to make the script somewhat reader friendly. People reading this script read a dozen scripts a day, so you want to find a way to stand out. You want to tell the story. So I could cut through that a little bit, I could just go 'trust me, it'll be scary'. So it was a little bit of shorthand, where I could write notes for myself. It was helpful that I knew I was going to direct, and that I didn't have to be so specific with things because I knew I had people I could call up and say 'hey I wrote this, how can I cut through that'. That was a big advantage.
"The one thing I'll say is that there were a couple of times on set I wished I could turn to the writer and say, 'Hey, can you figure this out?' So that made for some long nights, because after we'd finish I go home and hammer out some pages, come back in the morning with new pages," he continued. "Thank God for Mckenna [Grace] and Madison [Iseman] and Katie [Sarife] and Patrick and Vera. I would just come in with new stuff all the time because they're so good. I'd come like 'I loved what you did with this the other day, so I added something to this scene, and they'd be like that sounds great!' So it was really nice to have them be able to play along with that as I discovered my process."
"Mckenna has been sort of my north star during this whole entire thing. She's so professional, but she's still a kid. She loves horror. She'll tell me the movies she's seen and I'll be like, 'Wow, all right.' But she gets it, so it was nice to have a shorthand with her when it came to horror stuff. She loves and appreciates the genre. She's just so good, she got the character right away. She can turn it off and on like that, it's amazing what kind of talent she had. She's a great girl. The same can be said for Madison and Katie ... Madison was making horror films when she was 12 years old, so it was great to not have to explain to them some of the tropes. They get it."
Tweaking the formula of scary moments, Dauberman admitted, "That's something I love to play around with, the expectations of ... Let's lead [the audience] along. I'm a huge fan of magic, and it's all about misdirect. I try to apply that a lot to scares. I learned that from James [Wan] too, he's always trying to push that. 'I did this last time, so I'll give them up to that this time, and then I'm going to go right when they going to think I'm going to go left.' So I try to do that with a bunch of the scares here. And to not just go for the jump scares all the time. You think something's going to happen and then it doesn't. There's a sequence that feels a little more Twilight Zone-y than a more 'approaching a corner, is the monster behind it'. We tried to vary it up on that level."
"If the artifact room is like an engine and an engine operates on battery, Annabelle would be the battery that sort of comes in. Other things feed off her energy or she manipulates them in order to get through to the girls in the house. She's kind of the conductor of the orchestra, maybe another metaphor. That's how I saw that approach. Through Annabelle, we get to learn more about the other artifacts, learn more about them and how they scare people and their history and back story a little bit. It's really great. Annabelle has her own set of rules, so it was fun to not just have those in the movie. If I wanted something that felt weirder than scary, I could use this artifact or that. That part was a lot of fun The challenge was because there are so many artifacts, balancing them in the movie. You can only do so much, and so you have to whittle away... when James and I were coming up with the story, the artifacts always interested us the most. Things we hadn't seen in the movie but that was tucked away behind a shelf that we could play around with."
"These movies invite a discussion of whether people think [ghosts and demons] are real. If you go online and watch videos of the Artifact Room, there are plenty of videos of people being like 'poke the bear, see if it's real!' People think it's funny, and maybe it's not so funny when you get a demonic presence attached to you. There's always that sort of safety net. One of the rules we always talked about was that when you're watching a horror movie, the characters don't know they're in a horror movie. I talk about how many times I've gotten up in the middle of the night because I heard something downstairs. I don't think it's some person hiding in the shadows to kill me, I just thought it was a strange thing. Watching it you go 'don't go down there!' but they don't know."
Written and directed by Gary Dauberman, Annabelle Comes Home stars Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife. The film hits theaters on June 28.