James Wan on The Conjuring 2 and Aquaman

The director talks about returning to his horror franchise and making his first superhero movie.

At WonderCon in Los Angeles this past weekend, director James Wan turned up to premiere trailers for his horror hit sequel The Conjuring 2, which he directed, and a new supernatural shocker called Lights Out, which he produced (more on both here and here). The double helping of horror, both coming out this summer, marks a return to the genre in which Wan made his name with movies like Saw, Insidious and the first Conjuring, before helming last year’s action blockbuster Furious 7.

While he unreservedly loves the horror genre, Wan is moving on again once the scary-looking Conjuring 2 is completed and in theaters: his next project will be Aquaman for the DC Extended Universe, starring Jason Momoa as the King of Atlantis and future Justice League member. Den of Geek got a few minutes to talk with Wan after his WonderCon panel, and we touched on returning to horror, making The Conjuring 2 — based on another case file from real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (once again played by Patick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) — and what he expects from his first superhero outing.

Going back to horror, is there a bit of a comfort level there after doing a big action blockbuster and what do you think you learned from that that you applied to The Conjuring 2?

There definitely is a sense of a comfort level, coming back to a genre that I know so well, but ultimately coming back to a family really — the cast that I know so well, the crew that I know so well and the studio that really supported me on the first Conjuring. So it was great in that respect, yeah. But that didn’t make the movie any easier to make in a lot of ways. I found myself trying not to be complacent and being alert about trying to make the best film I could.

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How do you keep things fresh and come up with new scares and ideas so it’s not just a retread of the first film?

I think it’s a combination of that, but you know, when people come up to me and ask “How do you make your horror movies scary?” I say that I think the most important thing has actually nothing to do with the horror scenes or setpieces, but creating characters that people care about. When you create those characters that people love and care about, and put them in a dark hallway, already the audience is on edge and they feel empathy for that character. Then it’s up to me to decide what jumps out in that hallway. So I think laying that foundation of strong characters and strong story is the most important thing in a horror film.

Is it interesting to you to build a franchise about a couple like the Warrens, who have so many cases in their files with each potentially being different?

I think having different cases is what’s going to give each movie its episodic feel. Each movie is basically its own story, based on whatever the case is that they go and investigate. But the key here is to keep continuity with who they are. Once you establish who they are, how they live and how they interact, you can pretty much pick them up and put them into whatever cases, and it becomes about watching how they deal with those cases.

As you move onto Aquaman, how do you think that will challenge you as a director and what sort of tone are you looking to set with your first superhero movie? 

I think the biggest challenge will be from a technical standpoint. That movie is going to be a motherfucker to shoot (laughs). It’s not going to be easy, but I’d like to think that I will apply the same mentality from my low-budget films to the big stuff. My low-budget films, more than anything, taught me that you’ve got to create cool, likable characters and great stories, because if you don’t, it doesn’t matter how cool it might look — no one is going to care about it. So I think that’s my first and foremost important thing to do.

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