For a first-time director sitting in the editing bay of his debut film, Annabelle Comes Home director Gary Dauberman seems incredibly relaxed. Maybe that's because he's very much at home on The Conjuring side of the horror-verse, having written this one, the previous two Annabelle films, and The Nun. It also probably helps that the set itself is a recreation of Ed and Lorraine Warren's 1973 house, created by artists (including hands-on producer James Wan) who have been with the franchise since day one, and they just made it so darn homey. Either way, this time around, home is where the scares are.
"It's really about bringing the doll home," Dauberman recently told SYFY WIRE and a select group of reporters congregating in an editing bay on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California. And he's being literal, too, as the first footage he shows us is the opening sequence of the film (teased in the trailer below), in which demonologist Ed (Patrick Wilson) and medium Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are driving Annabelle, buckled up in the back of the family truckster, to their home after she scared the Hippocratic oath out of some poor nurses at the beginning of Wan's The Conjuring (2013).
So Annabelle's "Coming Home" is just that — specifically, to the overcrowded artifact room inside the Warrens' mid-century abode in Connecticut, where they aren't just fabled paranormal investigators but a loving, married couple, and doting parents to 10-year-old Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace). You can imagine how well that goes.
"We get a little bit more mythology; it is about how she affects the mythology of the other artifacts that we've seen in other movies, but we haven't really told their stories yet," Dauberman says. "I think it's also drilling down on telling the story of Judy Warren too, which is something I really wanted to unpack as well … we told the origin and creation … this is more about what's happening in the present day of 1973, of what's happening in Judy's life, and how Annabelle f***s that up."
Perhaps that's exactly what one should expect when you bring your malevolent-spirit work home with you, but Ed and Lorraine also have another side.
"I thought a lot about … as a parent myself, you know, Ed and Lorraine as parents, that's what I sort of wanted the banter in the car to be about … like, what if they don't talk about death all the time, or ghosts?" Dauberman says. "They're a married couple, I'm sure they have their little inside jokes and all that stuff, so I wanted to get a little of that there. They're also parents to Judy, and being able to talk to the real Judy Warren was this exceptional experience, [hearing] just what it was like growing up with having parents that did what they do."
So what does living among the possessed to do to an impressionable 10-year-old girl?
"She wasn't unsettled by it in any way," Dauberman says about what he learned from conversations with the real-life Judy Warren. However, "there's stuff that she revealed that I put into the movie that I can't reveal yet, but that I made sure to put in and are sort of major plot points ... but she really did say that they wanted a sense of normalcy for her."
You know, just your average suburbanites raising a happy family in a happy home, which happens to include an artifact room filled with demonic vessels that probably shouldn't be accessible to minors. And Annabelle isn't just the prettiest artifact of the bunch, she's also the master of it.
"That's kind of how I looked at her, as the maestro of the madness or the mayhem," Dauberman says. "The master of the ceremonies is a great way to put it, and how she sort of charges up the other artifacts that are in the room. What's it like when you bring something like Annabelle, who is a strong demonic force, and you put her in the presence of all these other forces — what's that like? What's that interaction like?"
Another aspect of the story is what happens when Ed and Lorraine leave little Judy with the babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), while they're off somewhere else traipsing around with demons. Granted, the babysitter can be trusted, but her adventuress best friend, Daniella (Katie Sarife), has a hankering to get inside that artifact room.
"I wanted a little sense of playfulness because it is teenagers, early '70s, it's teenage girls in a house … I wanted it to have that sort of vibe to it — the '70s-style horror movie," Dauberman says, also noting that for the first time in the Conjuring-verse, "for the most part," the movie takes place over the course of just one night, which makes it feel "very slasher-y."
Just the same, Annabelle Comes Home is still very much an Annabelle movie, as it's hard to forget you've got the world's freakiest doll as your star — which for a first-time director proved incredibly valuable in the editing room. "From a filmmaking standpoint you can just cut to a shot of the doll when nothing's happening," Dauberman says. "It's such a great sort of cheat. It's like, 'Oh f*** we got to do something, [editor] Kurt [Morri], what are we going to do? Cut to the doll!'"
While this is indeed the third Annabelle film and takes place after the events of the prior two — Annabelle (2014) and Annabelle: Creation (2017) — it's not the completion of a so-called trilogy. "The doll connects the story, and the mythology connects the stories, but I don't think this puts closure to the Annabelle story in any way," Dauberman teases.
In fact, Dauberman has ideas for at least one more Annabelle movie, though one might question when he'll find time to write it; he's not just writing and first-time-directing this, but also screenwriting It: Chapter 2, co-showrunning DC Universe's upcoming Swamp Thing series, and exec-producing and screenwriting an adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot.
"I do have an idea for [Annabelle] 4, but that's not to say it's a good idea, I just have an idea," Dauberman says. "Because all these [artifacts] are so rich in history and mythology, and then also the characters too — Judy, Ed, and Lorraine — they all have this great backstory that you can really unfold their stories in a myriad [of] different ways."
Dauberman calls the Warrens' museum an "embarrassment of riches" in terms of the stories the Conjuring-verse could explore. "As a horror fan, it's just all these different subgenres of horror," he says. "'Oh, we can do psychological, we can do a creature feature, we can do this, this!' So it's a lot of fun to sort of choose which objects we decided to explore but also very challenging because you can't do them all. But I'm sure we'll try, moving forward! But in this movie, we couldn't do 'em all."
We'll see just which artifacts come out to play when Annabelle Comes Home opens in theaters on June 26.