'Conjuring' director Wan prepares for break from horror
05:00 AM, Jul 16, 2013
Other than chill-inducing moments and nerve-rattling scares, the one thing audiences have come to expect in director James Wan’s horror movies is some sort of evil doll or puppet.
In his first feature film, the original Saw from 2004, it was the killer Jigsaw’s little tricycle-riding buddy Billy. Dead Silence (2007) was built around a freaky ventriloquist’s dummy. And his newest film The Conjuring (in theaters Friday) features Annabelle, a possessed doll with blond hair, dead eyes and a penchant for leaving notes that say “Miss me?” when her owners try to throw her in the garbage.
She comes from an old case of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who had a whole room full of kooky artifacts from their work.
Wan is so adept at scaring folks, some fans might think his home has a room filled with creepy puppets. (His Twitter handle is actually “@creepypuppet.”)
“They would be absolutely incorrect,” Wan says, laughing. “My house could not be any more the opposite to the kinds of films I make. It’s white, it’s minimalistic, there’s not much stuff around. It’s just very simple.”
So, more feng shui than Chucky chic.
While his decor might not be busy, his professional life is in addition to The Conjuring, the sequel to his and screenwriter/fellow Australian Leigh Whannel’s successful art-house movie Insidious arrives Sept. 13, and then he downshifts from horror to the highway as director of next summer’s Fast & Furious 7.
“I’m an action junkie so the chance to do something like this is very exciting,” Wan says. “With everything that I do, I try to find something new I haven’t approached before.”
With The Conjuring, it was tackling a tale based in reality for the first time. Wan had heard about the Warrens’ exploits when he was in high school, and he puts on screen not only the Annabelle situation but also a case from the 1970s of a family’s life turned upside down after moving into a haunted Rhode Island farmhouse. (The Warrens also were involved in the ’70s case that would be turned into the horror classic The Amityville Horror.)
For Wan, a horror film based on some sort of “true story” is always a little scarier than others.
“It brings an extra level to the story that people, when they watch it or read it, they start to project what they’re reading into their own mind and into their own everyday life,” says the Malaysian-born director.
Wan, 36, wanted to make a film like the classic studio horror flicks of the 1960s and ’70s, “when the studios actually made big-budget scary movies,” he says, but also one that was a “slow-burn” horror that starts out small and builds in intensity.
“What I learned from Insidious, when I watched the way it played with audiences, was if I held back on a lot of things, the movie became a lot more effective,” Wan explains. “Along the way, I tried to give it different shades of what is scary, whether it’s the atmosphere or a shocking scare or creepiness.”
Farmiga recalls the filmmaker’s technique felt “utterly musical” and likened herself to a cellist under his conductor’s baton.
“He knows the spooky music better than anyone in the pit,” she says. “He isn’t afraid to let a moment linger. After a while I picked up on his rhythm: Hold, hold, hold, until lingering feels like loitering, and then hold some more.
“He knows the score harmonically, rhythmically, emotionally, and most importantly, he makes his musicians feel loved.”
Wan has been marginalized as a one-note director of horror movies, he says, because Hollywood tends to typecast filmmakers. “Since my first movie, I’ve been trying to prove and break out and show people that I love other stuff as well. I’m not just of the horror genre.”
The director has one more frightfest to release.While the first movie tweaked the haunted-house subgenre, Insidious 2, out in September, is Wan’s twist on the domestic thriller.
That’s the same month he begins filming a new and scary proposition: Fast & Furious 7 (slated for release July 11, 2014) and the continuing big-budget adventures of Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’ Conner (Paul Walker) and their car-racing crew.
Wan is mindful of the franchise’s huge fan base and its box-office success director Justin Lin’s sixth chapter alone grossed more than $236 million this summer. Yet Wan feels he can bring his passion for suspense and tension into the world of summer-tentpole action films.
“If you watch the first Die Hard, it is so suspenseful and the set pieces were kind of scary and you’re sitting on the edge of your seat,” Wan says. “That’s what I would love to bring to this.”
Diesel, for one, thinks he has the goods.
“We don’t necessarily have to be bigger we just need to be fresh, be truthful and defy expectations,” he says. “Just as our audience is getting comfortable with the style or getting comfortable in any way, we bring in this horror master director to throw you off a bit and put a spotlight on other aspects of our characters within the saga.”
Don’t be surprised if Wan also throws a creepy puppet in there, too.
“I guess you’re just going to have to wait and see,” he says. “The blow-up doll that people have in car-pool lanes? Maybe I’ll bring that into it.”