Annabelle: Creation, the fourth movie in The Conjuring series and a prequel to Annabelle (2014), lands in our cinemas this weekend having already confounded expectations on its United States launch last week. The movie pulled in around US$40 million (Dh146,920,000) on its opening weekend, beating initial predictions and taking the number one slot at the box office. Perhaps most surprisingly, however, the film has also attracted wide critical appraisal compared to its predecessor which, while commercially successful, was criticised as a lazy, cheap attempt to spin a bit more profit from the James Wan-created horror franchise. Wan still produces here, though directing duties are handed to David F Sandberg, director of the 2016 breakout horror hit Lights Out.
The film’s star Stephanie Sigman plays Sister Charlotte, a nun who tries to keep her orphaned charges safe from the demonic doll of the film’s title. Sigman says: “Of course you always hope people are going to like any movie you make. But it was a surprise how warmly this has been received so far. You never really know how the response to a film is going to be, so you just have to go in and play your part because you have no control over anything else – how the movie’s going to come out, how it’s going to look or any of that. You just have to go in and give your performance and just hope the reactions are good.”
Annabelle: Creation is the first time Sigman has appeared in a horror film, although with past roles in movies and shows including Narcos, The Bridge and Shimmer Lake, it's fair to say she has a CV with a leaning to the darker side of the entertainment spectrum. She admits that she finds darker roles more fun to take on as an actress, although she insists that appearing in a horror was not something she had on her agenda prior to Annabelle.
“I’m not really a fan of horror. I scare really easily so if I’m going to watch horror it has to be with a group of people,” she says. “Even though I’m in this I still had to force my managers to sit through it with me when it was finished because I was so scared. I never really expected to make a horror movie, but I’m really pleased with it now I have. I think we’ve made not just a good horror movie, but a good movie.”
The latest Annabelle movie comes in the middle of something of a golden era for horror – movies like Lights Out, Get Out and It Follows have achieved that rare horror double of critical and box office success over the past couple of years.
Sigman has her own ideas about why the genre remains so enduringly popular: “I think horror makes people feel adrenaline and reminds you you’re alive,” she says. “When you’re scared in a movie you are just totally in that moment. We lead such busy lives today and we’re always thinking about what’s going on and what’s coming next, but when you’re watching something that scares you you’re truly in that moment and can let everything else go.”
It is fortunate then that Sandberg has looked to old-school horror as the basis for this film. Good old-fashioned jumps and psychological tension are his main weapons, rather than the gimmicky feel of the previous Annabelle movie. Indeed, the film is probably closer in tone to Wan's classy original Conjuring than either that movie or 2016's The Conjuring 2.
Sigman adds that, as a relative newcomer to Hollywood (Lights Out was his Hollywood debut, based on his own, 2013, Swedish short), Sandberg brought a refreshing feel to the set: "A lot of what he was doing on set he was doing for the first time and he had a really fresh perspective," the actress says. "He was really happy to just let us improvise, and if I had questions about the character or the story he was really good at answering, or just saying, 'Don't overthink it, just do what you would do naturally'. It sounds really simple but it is easy to overthink and complicate things that really should be easy and simple."
Sandberg's approach seems to have turned heads in the right places. In July he was signed up by the DC Cinematic Universe to direct the Shazam movie, due in 2019. Sigman admits that, so far, she hasn't held any talks with the director about reuniting in the DC Universe but, unsurprisingly, she says she would be open to offers: "I really don't know what they have in mind for the DC movies or what the characters are, we didn't talk about it at all," she says. "But yeah, sure I'd be open to it if they wanted me – who wouldn't? And David was great fun to work with, I'd love to work with him again, so we'll just have to see."