It was a brisk November morning when this writer descended onto the Warner Bros. lot for a set visit for the upcoming sequel, Annabelle Comes Home (which at that point was only being called Annabelle 3). Considering how much fun I had with David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation and how well it tapped into the sinister shenanigans of the titular doll, I was more than excited to see everyone’s favorite nefarious plaything in action yet again.
At the helm of this latest installment of the Annabelle series is Gary Dauberman, who has written the scripts for all three Annabelle films and served as a screenwriter on a few other films, including both chapters of IT and The Nun, and he utilized his writing talents on the upcoming Swamp Thing series. Essentially, if there’s a story coming out of the James Wan-iverse these days, Gary has had a hand in it, which makes him a great choice to lead the charge on Annabelle Comes Home.
For the newest chapter in the ongoing Annabelle saga, we’re picking up with Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who are not a main focus of the story for Comes Home) after they have collected the Annabelle doll back in the late ’60s, and are bringing it home to their artifacts room for safekeeping (or so they think). The Warrens are then called out of town for the weekend, and they leave their daughter, Judy (who is being played by Mckenna Grace), in the care of her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), who brings along her bestie Daniela (Katie Sarife) for the ride.
But as Annabelle settles into her new digs, she apparently conjures up a bit of mischief, as her presence begins to effect other haunted items inside the Warrens’ famed artifact room, which leads to a hellish experience for these three young ladies who must survive the occultish onslaught (which admittedly sounds a bit like a horror-fied Night at the Museum, and I personally think the premise sounds like so much fiendish fun).
At the beginning of our visit, we were ushered into a room on Stage 9 of the WB lot, which was adorned with dozens and dozens of crucifixes, which may seem silly to some, but you know, you can never be too careful, especially since The Conjuring and Conjuring-related movies tend to have a lot of weird juju around them. In fact, we were told that in an effort to curb some of the weird occurrences on Annabelle Comes Home, a set blessing had already been performed, and even though I don’t consider myself to be a believer in the supernatural, I was slightly relieved because, as they say, you just never know.
Filming that day was a scene involving Grace, Iseman, and Sarife as they go through some papers and materials in Ed’s study, uncovering an unsettling story about a haunted wedding dress that causes the brides who wear it to kill their respective grooms. And while it was not confirmed, my fingers are crossed that we’ll get to see the murderous garment in action on Annabelle Comes Home.
For the leading ladies of Annabelle Comes Home, all three were thrilled to be joining The Conjuring filmic family for this latest sequel. Grace, who is the youngest co-star in the ensemble, but has recently been a part of big projects like Captain Marvel, The Haunting of Hill House, and just joined the cast of the upcoming Ghostbusters film, also happens to be a huge horror fan (her favorite movie to watch with her dad is The Shining), and recalled when she heard she would be joining the latest Annabelle film.
“When I found out that I was going to play Judy, I was at cheerleading practice and I started crying,” said Grace. “It was really exciting because I love these movies. I thought it was cool that Judy knows about all this paranormal stuff, since her parents are Ed and Lorraine. But she also doesn't like it too much because she gets made fun of at school a lot because of it.”
“But I know that I have a lot of responsibility because Mr. Patrick and Ms. Vera have done really, really good in all of the movies. I loved working with them and I really want this one to look super good like the other movies. And Mr. Gary has helped me a lot.” One tidbit we did find out during our set visit is that Judy does indeed share her mother’s gift of premonitions, and that will most likely play into the sequel’s story in some manner.
In Annabelle Comes Home, Iseman’s character Mary Ellen struggles to deal with the events that transpire in the film’s story, but in reality, the actress is something of a genre nut as well. “I love horror films, so I've always wanted to do one and got really lucky with this one because this is such a great series to be a part of. I've always been obsessed with horror films. When I was younger, I used to make my own little horror films. They're all on the Internet, but you can't find them. They are under a really weird secret name that me and my friends in middle school made up. But I feel like I've always had that love for horror inside of me that I wanted to tap into forever and actually professionally get to do it.”
“My character is the babysitter of Judy Warren and she's very pure. She's the kind of the girl who thinks that nothing is going to hurt her or touch her. She's very put together in every way and every sense. So, of course, when everything goes wrong she probably has the hardest time dealing with it because that's not how her life is. And then everyone will see a bit about her past and how that ties into how she reacts here.”
With her character Daniela, Sarife described her as the really fun best friend of Mary Ellen who has a wild sense of curiosity, which can only spell trouble in Annabelle Comes Home (I mean, this IS a horror movie, so someone has to do some meddling in order for there to be a story). “Daniela is someone who is driven by her fascination with the afterlife and everything, because she had a close lost loved one, so she's very interested in all of that stuff, which is fun. She's that friend that gets you out of your bubble, and pushes you a bit, so I have really loved playing her. Growing up, dolls were my biggest fear, and I was honestly petrified of my dolls. So, when I found out I was going to be in this movie, it felt like a little bit of payback for all those times I was terrified of those things [laughs]. And if I’m being honest, this hasn’t been a scary experience at all, but I also don’t ever want to be left alone with Annabelle, either."
“But what I think is great about this story is that it has this coming-of-age feel to it, with the kids' dynamic, and then it's also very female-driven too, as far as it being about Mary Ellen, Judy, and Daniela, my character. I think fans will like that,” Sarife added.
Another aspect of Annabelle Comes Home that Sarife enjoyed was collaborating with Dauberman throughout production. “Gary is very much an actor-friendly director, and he’s been very collaborative. He'll listen to what you have to say. He's just a giant teddy bear and he’s so sweet, too. And if he's ever stressed, he's very good at hiding it because it never seems that way. It’s been like that with everyone, actually. The whole crew has been amazing. It makes the experience just so much more fun when everyone feels like they're here to help each other out.”
Right outside our media room stood the impressive set of the Warrens’ house, which had been constructed under the supervision of the highly talented production designer Jennifer Spence, who has lent her immeasurable sense of creativity to sets on Paranormal Activity 2–4, The Lords of Salem (which might be my favorite work from Spence), Insidious: Chapter 2 and 3, Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation, The Nun, and even the recently released Shazam! Annabelle Comes Home isn’t the first time we’ve visited the Warrens’ abode, but it is the first time fans will see it fully realized as an actual living space for Ed, Lorraine, and young Judy, since in previous films, they just shot assorted rooms for the location.
And while she’s no stranger to these stories and characters, Spence did find her challenges on Annabelle Comes Home to be unique from the work she had done previously. “What’s different on this one is the era, because it’s the late 1960s/1970s and I love that time. It was great to be able to come in and design the Warrens’ home. When we first looked at all the other footage from the other movies, I initially struggled with how to really bring it all together. It had always been pieces of other homes, so it had never really been designed before, and the way it had been shot before, I just couldn’t wrap my head around how the layout should be. So, in talking to Gary and James, we decided to just make our own thing and start over. Plus, I just wanted to do my own thing, anyway.”
“But we did keep two rooms the same: the room with the artifacts and Ed’s office, which is where we first meet the painting of The Nun. We also were able to match the wallpaper in the hallways so it looks a lot like what we saw in the Conjuring movies already.”
Spence did confirm that horror fans should keep an eye out for a few Easter eggs in her design work, too, and while this writer would love to spill the beans on what you might find in Annabelle Comes Home, I feel like it’s a lot more fun if audiences get to discover those items for themselves. But definitely keep your eyes peeled around the Warrens’ house when the film hits theaters this June.
Fans are also finally going to get to spend some significant time inside the infamous Warren artifact room in Annabelle Comes Home, and both Tony Spera (the son-in-law of Ed and Lorraine) and Judy Warren visited the locale to see how it all turned out (and we were told that both remarked that they believed Ed would have definitely given it a thumbs up on the room’s authenticity).
“Because it was initially established by Julie Berghoff, and it was a room that existed in a real house, we did our best to match what we’ve already seen in the artifact room," Spence said, "which is not an easy thing to do because that first Conjuring movie was so long ago now. Some of the artifacts had been kept, so we were able to pull them out of storage and use those, and then we just filled the room with all this other stuff.”
“We took some liberties while looking for some really weird and scary stuff to put in the room, too, and there are a few things in there that bother me. Like, there’s this little shrunken head that creeps me out, and there’s something really creepy about the case that Annabelle lives in. It’s the case from the first Conjuring, and there’s just something about it that feels off. But I’m a little weird, too, so I have sort of a love-hate relationship with a lot of the things you see in that room,” Spence added.
It remains to be seen just how many of those eerie haunted items will actually come into play during Annabelle Comes Home, but as someone who got a close-up look at many of the room’s shelves, there is so much potential for creep-tastic chaos that I am pretty stoked to see just how far Dauberman is going to push things in the sequel (and fans of The Conjuring movies should also recognize a few terrifying totems contained within the confines of this spooky space that will undoubtedly have you geeking out).
Look for Annabelle Comes Home in theaters on June 28th.
Photo by Justin Lubin: