On August 11th, David F. Sandberg’s latest project, Annabelle: Creation, will arrive in theaters everywhere courtesy of Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. Last summer, Daily Dead had the opportunity to take part in an extensive set visit for the sequel, which was held shortly after Sandberg’s feature film debut, Lights Out, was finding much success at the box office.

Annabelle: Creation is taking fans a few decades into the past, as we see how the titular doll not only came to be, but also transformed into a vessel of evil. The sequel first begins in 1945, where we’re introduced to the Mullins family, who suffer a great tragedy after their young daughter Bee is killed in a horrific accident. Flash forward 12 years and the Mullins decide to take in a group of orphans after they lose their orphanage and need a new home.

The new residents of the Mullins farm learn that Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) had created a special doll for his daughter right before she died, which ended up becoming haunted by a demonic force and is now tucked away from the world. The youngsters discover the mysterious doll one day when they’re exploring their new residence, and as you may have guessed, things begin to go wrong at the Mullins homestead—very, very wrong.

For his sophomore feature project, Sandberg collaborated with numerous folks he had worked with on Lights Out, including producer James Wan, production designer Jennifer Spence, editor Michel Aller, and actress Alicia Vela-Bailey (whose physical work as “Diana” in Lights Out is grotesquely beautiful). Sandberg discussed how Annabelle: Creation felt like the perfect fit for him as a follow-up project, especially since he felt like the pressure was off after completing his first directorial venture.

“We were just finishing up post on Lights Out, and it was testing really well. The studio was very happy with it, so they came to me and said, ‘Do you want to direct the next Annabelle?’ I was like, ‘Yeah! Like, let's go!’ I loved the script and that it was a period movie, too. To me, it was a perfect fit. Plus, what I also liked about this was that it wasn't a straight-up sequel to the first Annabelle, either. That it was its own little thing where I could do my own version of this world, and that appealed to me.” 

“There’s a lot less pressure on me this time around, because it's not my first movie anymore. When I was working on Lights Out, I was all, ‘Oh, this is my shot at Hollywood. I better make this right.’ Now, I've been on a film set and I know how it works, so there’s definitely a lot less pressure with this film,” added Sandberg.

During our time on the set, tucked away on a soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot, Sandberg and his crew were shooting an intense scene involving a dumbwaiter and little Linda, one of the orphans portrayed by Lulu Wilson (who delivered one of the best genre performances in 2016 in Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil), who finds herself trapped by the menacing “Evil Mrs. Mullins” (played by Vela-Bailey), a monstrous force that manifests itself through the young girls’ collective fears.

Vela-Bailey, who was given the opportunity to portray another supernatural antagonist in Annabelle: Creation, discussed how she collaborated with Sandberg on crafting her performance, and how closely watching her co-star Miranda Otto (who plays the “real” Mrs. Mullins) inspired how she physically approached the ghostly old hag who torments her victims on the rural property.

“For this character, the long fingers reminded us of Diana in a way, but the main thing from David when it came to Evil Mrs. Mullins was that he didn’t want me to be so upright all the time. It was more like an old lady-ish approach where I was constantly hunched over. Because a lot of the scenes I've done have been in low light, silhouette, or whatnot, you have to play with movements. If you're just a shadow, you don't want to just be so closed up. You kind of have to open up into frame and use the light and finger movement. It's just making it as eerie as possible. It's not too hard when you look like that to be eerie. It's fun.”

“Alicia was so awesome as Diana that I just wanted to work with her again,” Sandberg said. “She was actually off doing some other movie, like Thor or something, so we didn’t know for sure if she’d be able to do this. So I was very happy that she agreed to be in it, because I know what she could bring to that character. I knew she could take it to some extreme places.”

“Working with David on Lights Out was very cool,” added Vela-Bailey. “It was his first real big chance to make his passion project into this huge film, and I've seen him grow as a director from Lights Out to this film. There's more of a confidence there now, and I think he's able to be not as afraid to do what he feels. On the first show, he was a bit more cautious while working with everyone, and now, it's like everyone trusted him fully from the very beginning. I feel like he has really grown and it's been so great to work with him again.”

While Sandberg had no issues re-teaming with Vela-Bailey in order to bring one of Creation’s villains to life, he quickly discovered that the infamous doll would end up being the most challenging “co-star” he’d have to deal with during production.

“The whole thing about these films is that the doll is not supposed to move. So it’s hard working with that, because you have this stationery object that needs to be scary, so you have to have her move when no one's looking, instead of doing something that’s the focus of the shot. Like where you look away from the scene for a moment, and then you look back, and she's suddenly moved. You can’t have her running around, because she’s just a portal, so that was an interesting aspect to play around with.”

What immediately struck me about the scene we had the opportunity to witness during our set visit was that Wilson, who was only 12 years old during production on Annabelle: Creation, was handling her own ambitious stunts, suspended more than 15 feet in the air. For Wilson, getting to tackle the more rigorous parts of her role as Linda was no big deal (and for this writer, just seeing how high up the dumbwaiter rig was positioned was enough to make my stomach drop upon inspection).

“I’m not scared at all (today), because on my last horror film, Ouija Origin of Evil, I did all my own stunts, which was really fun,” explained Wilson. “It wasn’t planned that I would do them, but they just kind of gave me one stunt, and they were like, ‘If you do this good, and it's not that dangerous, and if you feel okay about it, then you can do the rest of them,’ and I was like, ‘Okay.’ So I did it, and they thought it was pretty good, so then I just started doing all of them. I did a back bend. I climbed on a wall, and I climbed on a ceiling, and then I walked on a ceiling. It was great.”

Wilson is just one of several up-and-coming actresses who comprise the orphans in Annabelle: Creation, although she’s practically a veteran in comparison to her younger co-stars. She talked about becoming a role model for her fellow orphans, and how she has aspirations that reach far beyond carving out one helluva career as an actress in horror (she’s already off to a great start in such a very short amount of time).

“I think that, out of all the genres, horror is the most fun because it's a lot of action, but also a lot of drama. It doesn't scare me at all. I mean, I wish horror movies would actually scare me, but my acting experiences are like a curse and a blessing at the same time. Whenever I watch a horror film, I'm always like, ‘Oh, I know how they did that.’”

“But this movie is cool, because I get to work with a lot of great actresses and I feel kind of like a role model to them. I like to rehearse with them, and show them new tricks and stuff, because I have a lot of tricks to show them, and I haven't gotten to tell them to anyone else because I haven't worked in a movie with kids before. This is the first one. So that’s been fun.” 

I’m also writing a story right now, too. It's about me, but I'm taking my life and I'm turning it into me as a spy, because I want to be a spy when I'm older. I really like it so far. When I’m older, I definitely want to be a director, a writer, and a spy. And I think that would be a pretty good idea, because I could cover as a director and a writer and actually be a spy,” Wilson added. 

In Annabelle: Creation, Talitha Bateman (whose brother Gabriel co-starred in Lights Out) plays Linda’s best friend, Janice, a girl stricken with polio, whose illness proves to be a tough obstacle to overcome, especially when her character is shunned by most of the other orphans or she has to try to out-maneuver the evil forces that haunt her throughout the sequel.

“There’s a great deal of sadness to Janice,” explained Bateman. “She sees all the other girls, and they’re always running around and they can move around easily, without the use of leg braces. Because of that, the other girls make fun of my character, but Linda is the only one who looks out for Janice and helps take care of her. Their relationship is very strong through the whole movie, and I think that helps them both.”

In Creation, it’s Bateman’s character that discovers the Annabelle doll, and she described how that experience was for her while shooting the scene. “It was so cool. We shot the scene, where I go in(to Bee’s room) and find the dollhouse, and David had me shoot a bunch of segments. Then, we shot that scene another couple of days, and it got a little confusing for me just because I’m always in my nightgown, but we did a lot of really cool things in that scene. David let me see some of it, and it was really awesome.”

When asked if she thought her inanimate co-star was unsettling to work with, Bateman admitted that she found Annabelle “kind of cute. She looks so innocent, and she’s always smiling at you—but maybe that’s why other people think she’s creepy.”

While it was evident that Sandberg and those he worked with in front of the camera were enthusiastic about their involvement and experiences on Annabelle: Creation, there were several members of the crew who were equally enthused by the opportunities the sequel provided them, particularly production designer Jennifer Spence, who went to great lengths in order to bring the Mullins’ house to fruition.

“A lot of the initial work was just finding the details of the house online,” Spence explained as she gave us a thorough walk-through of the massive two-floor set that was intricately designed, with every little nook and cranny feeling like it was given Spence’s undivided attention as she designed the impressive abode. “The floor plan was dictated by certain aspects of the script, like the fact that we had a character in a wheelchair, which meant we had to have a chair that was also able to travel up and down the staircase. That chair plays a big part in the movie, too, and because it moves as slowly as it does, it gave us a great opportunity to create some great moments of tension.”

“I also built crosses into the design of the house, so you’ll see that reflected in various ways throughout each room. For example, in Mrs. Mullins’ room, we wanted to fill her walls with crosses, but that was something that we had just seen in The Conjuring 2, so we did these cut-outs where all these crosses were reflected in the light, which gave the room even more of an eerie feeling. I’m very proud of how that came out, too. I also incorporated grates in the floor, which is an idea I took from an old New York City apartment I found, because I loved the idea of being able to see underneath the staircase, and never really knowing who or what could be watching you from the other side.” 

“I also went to Heritage Square Museum here in Los Angeles to do some of the research into architecture and decor, and that inspired a lot of my decisions, including the stenciling on the wallpaper, because that was a style that was used a lot in that era. My biggest focus to the design was that I wanted to give the house this elongated, eerie feeling, and so the rooms can also look into other rooms for that very purpose.”

“When we started, we spent over a month building the sets in a warehouse, and we did a walk-through with David and the producers to get all the details right. Then, once we knew it was right, we broke it all down and then we moved it over here (to Warner Bros.) and rebuilt it on this soundstage,” added Spence.

Discerning fans should also definitely keep an eye out for some of the brilliant details that Spence peppered throughout Annabelle: Creation, too, including a tribute to franchise producer James Wan, and various touches reflective of poor little Bee Mullins, the child that both Mr. and Mrs. Mullins haven’t been able to stop grieving over.

While I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t necessarily clamoring for another Annabelle film when it was first announced (I liked the first one enough, but since I’m not the world’s biggest supernatural cinema fan, it’s probably not a movie I’d ever really watch again), I was rather impressed by what we saw during our set visit for Annabelle: Creation, and I’m immensely curious about how Sandberg is going to connect the dots between these two films. He’s been given the right tools and an intriguing ensemble to bring his twisted vision to life, so I’m very excited that the Halloween season will unofficially be kicking off this August once Annabelle: Creation arrives in theaters.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures:

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.