While the first two entries in the spinoff series of The Conjuring’s creepy scene-stealing doll Annabelle delved into her demonic origin, the latest sequel is much more interested in seeing Annabelle wreak havoc in the Warren household. Set shortly after the events of the opening sequence in The Conjuring, in which protagonists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) intervene with Annabelle’s haunting of two young nurses in their apartment and subsequently lock her away in their artifact room, Annabelle decides to awaken other evil entities in the room while the Warren’s young daughter Judy is left home alone with her babysitter for an evening of unholy terror. Longtime franchise screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who also penned the screenplays for It and It: Chapter 2, will be making his feature film directorial debut with what looks to be a fun new entry in the universe, Annabelle Comes Home.
Stepping foot on set it becomes immediately clear the uncanny level of detail that went into the production design of Annabelle Comes Home. Walking through the Warrens’ home, it feels like an actual lived in home of its era, not just a set built on a soundstage. Every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen are filled with dishes, utensils, and household items. The bedrooms tailored to each character in every aspect. More astonishing is the signs of wear and tear on the flooring to indicate years of use; if you were to move the refrigerator in the Warrens’ kitchen, you’d see pristine, untouched linoleum flooring underneath as you would in your own home. Production designer Jennifer Spence, a huge horror fan and production designer for films like Insidious, Paranormal Activity 3, Splinter, and more, puts that much thought and consideration into her designs, and even thinks ahead to future possibilities.
Up until this point, not much has been shown of the Warren household, giving Spence a lot of creative freedom. “When we first looked at all the other footage from the movies, I was just really struggling with how to bring them all together because the Warren house had never been shown in any way. It hadn’t been designed, and it had been pieces of other homes all sort of stuck in there because they were telling other stories. So, looking at the footage I was like, ‘that doesn’t work and this doesn’t go here.’ It all just was so jumbled. We talked to James [Wan] and Gary, [they] were just like let’s make our own thing. Let’s just start over because it’s not, it wasn’t really working.’ And James had said early on he kind of wanted it to feel like a maze. Plus, I kind of wanted to do my own thing anyway. But there’s a couple of rooms, obviously the room that we recreated for the artifact room, then the office where he does his studying, and things like that in the basement where the Nun moves along the wall. That room is the same. I also used the same paper in most of the hallways from the other movies, the other Conjuring movies. But beyond that the house is our own design and our own, my own style,” Spence explains of her design for the Warren home.
“For me, and I know there’ll probably be another one of these, so if not The Conjuring 3 or maybe Annabelle 4, I don’t know, but I included a lot of different areas that didn’t exist before. There are a few doors that we’re not necessarily using in this movie, but I wanted to establish them in this house in case we ever come back to this house. Because that’s the thing if you’re stuck with that house and there’s nowhere else to go and you’ve seen every room then it’s kind of hard. So, there are some upstairs bedrooms that have never been seen. And then I have one in the staircase. And then I made one in the artifact room on the floor. Just for something extra to give not only the opportunity for us, but for any other director that might take up the helm, do another one,” Spence elaborates on the little details she places in the Warrens’ house that could allow for growth and further exploration in future films. An example of her meticulous set design and details that have paid off in previous films would be the dumbwaiter in Annabelle: Creation. It was Spence who came up with the idea to add the dumbwaiter to the Mullins home, and director David F. Sandberg loved it so much that he crafted a scare sequence around it. Spence’s impressive work in production design plays a major factor in the haunting atmosphere of The Conjuring universe, and her love of horror means she’ll remain a major force in the genre.
Rivaling her passion for horror is young horror fan McKenna Grace (The Haunting of Hill House, The Bad Seed), who stars as lead Judy Warren, the daughter of Ed and Lorraine who understands the world of the paranormal because of her parents’ work. The 13-year-old actress is a huge fan of The Conjuring films, so landing the role of the Warrens’ daughter was a dream come true for Grace, who shares what it’s like to transition from major fan to entering the universe, “It’s not scary, it’s really fun though. Like when I knew that I was gonna play Judy, I was at cheerleading practice and I started crying. It’s really exciting.” But her adoration of the films means she holds her job in high regard, too, “but I know I’m going to have a lot of responsibility because Mr. Patrick [Wilson] and Ms. Vera [Farmiga], have done really, really good in all of their movies, and I love their movies. I really want this one to look super good.” Every time McKenna gets to discuss horror, she gets giddy and her eyes light up with excitement. When asked if she enjoys horror beyond the Conjuring films, she gushes, “Very big fan, [my] favorite types of movies. My dad and I watch them all the time together.” Her absolute favorite? Without hesitation, “The Shining. It’s my all-time favorite.”
In the scene observed, Judy and her babysitter Mary Ellen (Goosebumps 2’s Madison Iseman) find Mary Ellen’s best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) in Ed’s office, going through his case files and watching footage of those cases on the projector.
In the corner alcove of the Warrens’ artifact room is a mannequin wearing a bridal gown and veil. The footage playing on the projector shows Ed and Lorraine investigating the case behind that haunted gown. The duo explains that this gown possesses the bride, causing her to viciously murder her groom. The blood stains on the gown disappear, allowing it to pass on to a new, unsuspecting bride and starting the cycle anew. The poor man that has called Ed and Lorraine for help has been taunted by the dress, setting up a big jump scare and a new potential spinoff entity.
The scene also sets up the dynamics and personalities of the core trio. Judy is quiet and reserved, but demonstrating more extensive knowledge on the paranormal than her parents are probably aware that she possesses. That she takes after her mother also means that Judy will likely become a formidable adversary for the menacing Annabelle. Of her character Mary Ellen, Iseman says, “She’s very pure and kind of the girl who had a little bit of a past, but nothing is going to hurt her or touch her now. 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.“ Conversely, Mary Ellen’s best friend Daniela is an extrovert with extreme curiosity about the work that the Warrens do. Sarife explains, “She’s like that really fun best friend that finds the humor in everything. She’s also got this wild curiosity with the afterlife and everything, because she had a close lost loved one. So, she’s very interested in all that stuff.” These girls will have to band together if they hope to survive the night.
Because most of the story takes place within the Warren house, the scenes were mostly filmed in chronological order. This means that during our visit, the scariest stuff had yet to be filmed. Iseman recounted her first encounter of Annabelle, “We just recently did our first scene with Annabelle. And it wasn’t even me, it was Katie’s scene. I was just watching it. It’s scary. And of course, just from watching the first two Annabelle films, it’s just- she’s scary. She’ll look at you, and it’s just not fun. I remember I got my first meeting with Gary, she’s just chilling in his office and we walked in. I was like, ‘okay, let’s go over the script.’ Annabelle’s just hanging out with us. She’s scary.” Iseman’s fear of Annabelle won’t be an act on screen. As for Sarife, despite her tougher character, she also has a healthy fear of Annabelle, “Dolls were my biggest fear growing up. I was petrified of my dolls. It was terrifying. So, when I found out I was like, you know what, this is a little bit of payback for all those. Probably not the best thing to say. Anytime I say anything that could piss off Annabelle I’m like, ‘Just kidding, just kidding!’”
Between a spinoff set more squarely in the Conjuring universe, a vast potential of new foes, a younger cast forced to face that evil, a potential new long-term heroine in McKenna Grace’s Judy, and Annabelle having a blast wreaking havoc on the Warren home, Annabelle Comes Home is shaping up to be a very different entry that promises to bring both the fun and the scares.