Dolls are terrifying. There. We said it. And we’re not ashamed to admit it anymore, especially after seeing Annabelle: Creation, the latest chapter in the ever-expanding horror movie universe build around James Wan’s The Conjuring.
In the wrong hands, this latest Annabelle effort might have fallen a bit flat. Set before the events of the original spin-off movie of the same name, it centres around a small orphanage, that’s home to several innocent young girls and one rather malevolent evil spirit.
Thankfully, with David F. Sandberg in the director’s chair, it’s proven an altogether different story. Having previously won praise for the similarly scary Lights Out, Sandberg has been on the receiving end of even better reviews this time round.
He remains modest, of course telling loaded he is “pleasantly surprised” by the critics. “Horror movies don’t usually get responses like this,” he adds. So how did he do it, what makes these films so popular and why, oh why, can’t we stop having nightmares about possessed dolls? David reveals all.
loaded: Were you ever apprehensive about doing a sequel after Lights Out?
David: At first. I didn’t want it to just be the same as the first movie with the doll just coming back and terrorising people. But then I read the script and saw it was a very different kind of story and something I could make my own – you don’t even have to have seen the first movie to enjoy this one. I liked the fact it was almost an all-female cast and also that it is a period piece which is obviously something that lends itself really well to horror.
I didn’t see the fact it was a sequel as being that big a challenge since it’s so different to the original. To be honest, after Lights Out, which was such a baptism of fire as my first film, it was a nice change. I had put a lot of pressure on myself with that film to succeed.
loaded: The cast is made up of a lot of children and teenagers – did that throw up any unique issues?
David: No, the only challenge was that because most of the actors were underage, there was no overtime – which was tricky if you were in the middle of shooting a scene but the cast were all so great.
loaded: Supernatural horror movies are hugely popular right now – how do you go about ensuring things stay scary?
David: That’s the whole challenge of the movie: to keep it fresh and be able to scare audiences that have seen a lot of scary movies. It’s that thing of trying to be surprising and make people feel a certain way I wanted to trick people into feeling safe in certain scenes. You have to try and guess what the audience is expecting and try and then subvert that and take things in another direction.
loaded: Setting things in the past is also helpful in horror movies, right? There are no mobile phones…
David: It’s not just mobile phones – everything is a little slower and more old fashioned, which just lends itself to these kinds of stories. In the original Annabelle, they even manage to call the police – they just take a while to get there. There’s just something creepy about the past. I find that. When you are looking at old pictures or stuff in antique shops – there’s just something creepy about it.
Horror does go through fads though – in the early 2000s, for example, we had a lot of almost torture porn movies that came out, which I wasn’t a fan of. It’s all very supernatural at the moment and not so in-your-face, which I like.
loaded: People were a little more religious back then too, right?
David: I’m not so sure it’s about religion. I just think people were more willing to believe in these sorts of things.
loaded: But what is it that makes dolls like Annabelle or even, say Chucky from Child’s Play, still so frightening?
David: Dolls look like miniature versions of us, so our brains almost expect them to start moving when we’re not looking. Older dolls also look a lot creepier than some modern dolls because of the care and detail that goes into them.
loaded: What are you working on next?
David: Shazam. The Rock has been cast as Black Adam but this first movie will not feature Black Adam. It’s something different from what I have done as it’s not horror, but I will return to horror at some point. It will be lighthearted but probably not like Deadpool in that edgy, R-rated way.
Annabelle: Creation is out now and comes highly recommended.