With Annanbelle Comes Home, Gary Dauberman steps out of the shadows and into the forefront of a Conjuring universe film as a director for the first time. With plenty of experience coming up with the previous films' narratives (having penned Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, and The Nun), Dauberman was guided by the experience of mastermind James Wan and Annabelle: Creation's director David F. Sandberg in the efforts. Still, Dauberman managed to break through the daunting pressure of being responsible for both the script and final picture this time around with a film that mixes his ability to provide laughs and screams, all in one.
Going with a younger, more energetic cast than previous Annabelle films, Comes Home is inherently lighter in tone. Madison Iseman, McKenna Grace, and Katie Sarife are at the forefront of the claustrophobic haunted house movie. While the girls offer up laughs in their own timing and wit, it is Dauberman who is clever with framing the scares, misleads, and sometimes comedic beats which get the audience to cough up their strongest reactions. With his previous involvement with Conjuring films and It, it seems Dauberman was like one of the ghouls in the films, quietly observing until his time to strike came along.
"I'm still mastering it," Dauberman tells ComicBook.com of perfecting the cinematic jump scare. "We come to these movies as fans first, and the first audience members. We know what we've done before, so we're trying to subvert that in any way we can, and sort of play with the expectations, because we know what we're going to expect. So if we're expecting it, we know the audience is expecting it." Such a strategy is implemented right out of the gate in Annabelle Comes Home, as Dauberman is quick to prompt the audience to expect a startling scare only to laugh audibly at themselves when they're not.
"That's something James really ingrained into all of us," Dauberman explains. "We try to zig when everybody else thinks we're gonna zag, and I just like playing with the rhythmic, you know, like the offbeats of matching the scare and the humor stuff, too. I think it keeps people on their toes a little bit. I think if you're laughing at one scene and you're scared the next, I think the movie just becomes all the much more scarier, because you're caught off guard a little bit."
Dauberman is quick to credit his predecessors and mentors for his directorial skills. "It starts with James," he says. "[James Wan and David F. Sandberg are] so willing to help me. If I have questions, they're so willing to answer them. And I feel very lucky that I can call on people like James Wan, and bend his ear on, 'Hey man, how would you do this? Because I would like to do it exactly how you would.'"
Still, the friendly and enthusiastic director admits that showing off his film to a massive audience for the first time is as scary as the movie itself. "I found out a new fear," Dauberman admits. "It's its own kind of horror movie, I can tell you that. Fortunately, I'm with really an extended family within the Conjuring universe, so I had all that support behind me and it never felt like I was just carrying the load on my own, at all. It's such a collaborative, and it's such a team effort to make these movies. So yes, while it was scary, I never sort of felt like I was on my own island and no one was there with me."
Next for Dauberman is a follow-up to the smash hit It with It: Chapter Two. He won't be at the forefront as a director with it but he is responsible for its script again. "I think I should just say, if you dug the first one, you're going to love the second one," Dauberman promises. "The cast is incredible. [Director] Andy [Muschetti] continues to kill it every time. It's an exceptional, exceptional movie. I'm really, really proud to have been a part of it."
Annabelle Comes Home opens in theaters on Wednesday.
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