WonderCon 2017: New Annabelle: Creation Footage, Insight From Director David F. Sandburg at the Warner Bros. Panel; Also Wonder Woman Stuff
I’ve always had a soft spot for WonderCon. While San Diego Comic-Con has expanded from just some comic book artists in a few halls of the convention center to engulfing the entire city, WonderCon has been true to its commitment to stay small.
It’s a place where you can still chat with artists, find new series you’ve never heard of, wade through boxes of discount comics, and get that classic waiting in line for a panel experience. Big names are still around of course, with towering Marvel/DC booths and plenty of show panels, but most of the heavy hitters are holding off for Comic-Con.
So most of the WonderCon major media void is filled by upcoming projects. This year’s headliner was the upcoming supernatural thriller series “Midnight, Texas” (more to come on that soon), and WonderCon 2016 was the first showing of both “Preacher” and Lights Out. Pay attention to that second one, as Warner Bros. was back once again at WonderCon 2017 to show fans some never-before-seen footage from Annabelle: Creation.
In case you aren’t aware, Annabelle: Creation is the newly revealed title for the Annabelle 2 project, which is described as an origin story. Despite being critically panned, Annabelle was a financial success, making $257 million off of a $6.5 million budget. With those numbers, a sequel is pretty much guaranteed. So though there may have been a collective groan from horror fans at the announcement of a sequel of a spin-off of an unrelated creepy prop from the successful The Conjuring franchise, no one can really be surprised. What is surprising is how good Annabelle: Creation is shaping up to be. This is where you need to remember that bit I said about Lights Out, as Annabelle: Creation is directed by the same up-and-coming horror visionary, David F. Sandberg.
There were two new pieces of Annabelle: Creation footage we saw, the first of which was the premiere of a new trailer you can now find online. You can watch it right here, or head over to Jonathan Barkan’s way more in-depth and professional posting of the trailer:
That sure is some spooky ghost stuff! But hey, we’re horror fans here. We know that if trailers could be trusted, then Rings wouldn’t have sucked. So what did the actual footage look like?
Unfortunately, I can’t actually link you to what I saw, as I’m not about cellphone shaky-cam footage or being blacklisted by major studios. However, what I can say is that even with just Light’s Out and Annabelle: Creation to his name, Sandberg is already proving himself as a director with a very unique visual style. His use of lighting goes beyond the typical flickering bulb or dark palette one expects from horror, instead contrasting vibrant brights with pitch blacks. It creates a sense of constant claustrophobia, like an encroaching danger is just beyond your vision.
His camera work is also very active, never needlessly lingering on a single frame just waiting for a scare to happen. Even when the camera is locked, there’s a purpose to it, and you never wait overlong to be on the edge of your seat.
As to what actually happens in the clip, here’s a quick recap. We were prompted by Sandberg that in this scene, there is a door that the children at the orphanage were told never to go in. With that preface, the clip began with a young blonde girl in a blue nightgown slowly tiptoeing through a hallway at night. Tiptoeing might not be the right word, as we can clearly see a crutch and leg brace that hamper her movement. After peering out into the shadows, a crayon-written note is slid under the door behind her. As she reads it, she hears the door she’s been warned to avoid unlock. Naturally, she goes in.
Within the quiet room are a number of dolls, with the centerpiece being a big dollhouse with its own working lights. The young girl peers inside with delight and is quickly drawn to a room where a small figure stands next to a closet. The dollhouse closet opens, and a key falls out. Looking around the room and realizing the layout is similar to the one she stands in, she tries her luck on a full-sized locked closet door. Lo and behold, the key works. Inside, we get our first glimpse of Annabelle, who is creepy as ever and bathed in a soft pale light that refuses to illuminate the rest of the closet. From the door we can see a number of newspaper clippings pinned to the inside, but nothing else. Sufficiently spooked, the girl shuts the door and begins to walk away. As you might predict, the door creaks open again. This time she locks the door, and as she turns, it creaks open yet again. Taking the nearby bed sheet, she tosses it over the doll.
Hearing a sound out the window, she goes over to see a shadowy man holding a lantern walking towards the house. As the figure looks up and sees her, she turns to quickly return to her room. Instead, she finds that the sheet has risen into a full-grown figure that slowly walks towards her. As the unseen specter moves closer, the sheet begins to slide off. When finally fully exposed, we see that there was nothing visible under the sheet all along. The young girl runs back to her room and cowers in her bed. Soon, another set of heavy footsteps is heard, and the shadow of the man from outside can be seen in her doorway.
So you might be reading this and thinking that each of these scares sounds pretty standard, which is why I prefaced this by praising Sandberg’s unique visual style. These are easily scenes that could have been done worse, but the contrasting lights and darks draw you in. The shadowy man outside was a nice touch, adding a level of human menace to the supernatural elements. Overall, while I found the scares themselves to be a bit underwhelming, the overall shot design and visual construction made it a tense and exciting experience.
The clips were only about six minutes of the overall thirty, with the rest of the time being taken up by Sandberg discussing some of the details of making Annabelle: Creation. One interesting tidbit is that the lead girl, Janice, is played by Talitha Bateman, sister of Gabriel Bateman, who starred as Martin in Lights Out. So props to whatever acting school those kids are going to. He also stated that he “probably wouldn’t have been interested in making it if it had been a straight continuation of the first.” He continued, “[The Conjuring] has this sort of classic horror movie feel, more old school. So this was my chance to do my version of an old school horror movie.” While I wouldn’t call it old school visually, it gets some props in that department for using the original The Shining soundtrack as the temp score. Sandberg explained that they later built off of that into their own score, but using it during the production helped him get that classic feel right.
I actually got to sit down with Sandberg afterwards for a one-on-one, so check back soon to see what he had to say about Annabelle: Creation, Lights Out 2, and his new position in Hollywood.
It isn’t exactly Dread Central material, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also go over the Wonder Woman stuff. After Sandberg left, screenwriter Geoff Johns and director Patty Jenkins took the stage to talk about the upcoming DC Extended Universe blockbuster Wonder Woman. I won’t recap what was all said, since frankly you aren’t coming to Dread Central to read about Wonder Woman. What I will say is that the clips I saw were very pretty. The special effects are all very good, and the action is quick and kinetic. The lasso of truth looked kind of silly, but of course it did. It’s a shining gold lasso. Everyone clapped when Wonder Woman kneed a German soldier through a window.
Now here’s where I get to do a little bit of editorializing. It was fascinating to me that of the entire hour panel, Sandberg and Annabelle: Creation took up half of it. This is in light of the other half being taken up by the massive upcoming Wonder Woman film. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures has been pouring hundreds of millions into making the DC Extended Universe a thing, and so far the results have been mixed. Though financially successful, it’s so far failed to rival the critical and commercial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They have been pushing their new titles hard, and I honestly expected Annabelle: Creation to just be the opening act of an hour long Wonder Woman clip fiesta. But that turned out to not be the case. Many fans were just there to cheer for Annabelle: Creation. As someone who spends much of his time behind a computer interacting with the avatars of a theoretical horror community, it’s nice to see them come out in force and represent that. And it’s even nicer to see studios acknowledge that.
As for Annabelle: Creation, I have high hopes. Sandberg as a director seems to be all raw talent with no Hollywood agenda, which is exactly what we need from major studio productions. The game has also changed in terms of sequels. While once it was generally accepted that sequels were a slow crawl into stale cheap cash-ins, films like Ouija: Origin of Evil and Insidious: Chapter 3 have bucked the trend. There are some clear other parallels to these two films… a young girl, weakened by some crippling accident, preyed upon by a malicious spirit that inhabits a haunted toy? But I’m eager to see what Sandberg does with the property. As the film doesn’t release until August 11th, I’m sure there will be more info released in the months to come. In the meantime, stay tuned for my interview with Sandberg and other WonderCon coverage.