Shazam! is a lighthearted superhero movie from a director not really known for telling lighthearted stories. Director David F. Sandberg is known for his work in the only successful (modern) horror movie shared cinematic universe, with the Conjuring-adjacent Annabelle: Creation, not to mention the tense and violent Lights Out. But Shazam! has humor and heart to spare, a brightly colored romp through the magical corners of the DCEU.
But you don’t have to look far to see how Sandberg’s horror influences are felt in the movie. A key point of the film is the release of the magical avatars of the Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Greed, and Wrath, who are controlled by the villainous Dr. Sivana. They’ve been represented in the comics before, with their statue forms appearing in the very first Shazam story in 1939, and appearing as their scary, demon-y forms at various points in the comics since then, most recently in the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank reboot that modernized the origin story.
The cinematic version of the sins are just scary enough, recalling some of the creepier, sharp-toothed elements of Joe Dante’s Gremlins movies or the original Ghostbusters. Unsurprisingly, Sandberg took a personal interest in creating them.
“He literally crafted them from scratch,” producer Peter Safran says. “Every element, the skin texture, the hair, the bumps, the amount of saliva in their respective mouths. David …was all about getting the Sins right. because it was also very complicated. You had to have their smoke form and their solid form and how do they blend in and out of each. He worked for months with the visual effects department and also the visual development people to get that right. But it was very much on his shoulders.”
While the Sins have roots in the comics, they don’t have the kind of iconic, recognizable looks that you usually associate with superheroes and supervillains. That gave Sandberg and the Shazam! team plenty of freedom for this film.
“The great thing is that they’ve been portrayed so differently in the past,” Sandberg says. “If you compare the Jerry Ordway or the Geoff Johns comics with the original ones, they look completely different. It wasn’t like we had to adhere to a certain style. It was like, okay, we can do our take on it and create these sort of more monstrous Sins.”
And while the Sins do have a physical form, they don’t always stay physical. Sandberg thought that through, as well. “I didn’t want to have those monsters flying around in that form,” he says. “I didn’t think that would look good. So that’s why we came up with this thing that they would have their spiritual form as well, the smoky form that they could go in and out of. Which then led to ideas of, okay, well if they’re just smoke, maybe you try to punch a Sin but it turns into smoke. And you just go right through it, and that would present an interesting challenge.”
All of these elements combine to make some of the most monstrous visuals seen in superhero movies.
“The fact that they were so well designed adds to the realness and the jeopardy that exists when they are interacting with the people,” Safran says. “Because they are so menacing, it really makes you worry more about when they’re interacting with the kids.”
Shazam! is in theaters now. Read our spoiler-free review here.