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Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema kicked off the second day of WonderCon in Los Angeles by frightening attendees with sneak peeks of two of its upcoming horror titles, “The Conjuring 2” and “Lights Out.”
Director James Wan, whose resume includes “Saw,” “Furious 7” and the upcoming Aquaman movie, took to the stage to discuss his sequel to the 2013 hit “The Conjuring,” the second-highest grossing horror film of all time.
After screening a trailer for the follow-up, which chronicles the famous investigation of poltergeist activity at a council house in Enfield, England, Wan explained that the appeal of “The Conjuring” is due primarily to its subjects, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.
“The reason why it resonates with a lot of people is because of the real life inspiration behind it,” he said, adding that great actors like Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga help bring these real people to life on screen. “Having characters that you care about helps make the scares play stronger.”
Wan spoke of the difficulty in deciding which of the Warrens’ cases to focus on in the sequel, saying they have investigated between 4,000 and 10,000 cases in their lifetime. “We had to touch on their most famous case — Amityville,” he said. “Amityville, in a lot of ways, dictated what the rest of the film would be. That’s how we came to the Enfield Case. The Enfield Case and Amityville are probably the two most documented paranormal cases in history.”
Constructing scares is difficult, the filmmaker conceded. “A lot of people can be quite dismissive of scares in a horror film,” he said. “A good one is very hard to do right. One you haven’t ever seen before is even harder. I try to push myself to write something I haven’t seen before or think of things that scare me. And then I try to figure out a way to articulate that cinematically. I don’t think there’s a trick to it. But if I had to put my finger on it, I would say it’s coming up with something that is relevant to us. Something that is relevant to everyone alive.”
He noted that while the actors have spoken of spooky and unsettling occurrences on set during, he didn’t experience anything too out of this world. “I think when you are making a horror movie you are more in tune to things than you would be if you were making a comedy,” Wan concluded.
When asked to comment on his style of filmmaking, he said he tends to be “very classical.”
“I know ‘Saw’ doesn’t demonstrate that. ‘Saw’ has a very kinetic aesthetic to it, but a lot of that had to do with how low budget it was,” he said. “It was a very rough film. I tried to hide as many of the flaws as I could. But I don’t feel that ‘Saw’ is reflective of my aesthetic. I feel like ‘Insidious’ and ‘The Conjuring’ are more reflective of my taste.”
Wan said filmmaking techniques don’t change based on the budget, noting that ‘Saw’ cost less than a million dollars and ‘Furious 7’ cost hundreds of millions. “Story and characters are always the most important things,” he said. “That never changes. If you create good characters you can put them in any movie — big or small.”
Wan produced the second film in the New Line presentation, “Lights Out,” which is based on a viral short by Swedish director David F. Sandberg. Wan noted he wants his production company Atomic Monster to give young filmmakers a chance to do the kinds of things he did with “Saw.”
Sandberg joined Wan on stage and spoke about the short, produced as part of a film contest that asked contestants to make a horror film less than three minutes long. Shot in his apartment and starring his wife, the short won the competition and became an Internet sensation.
He received a call a year ago asking him to come to Hollywood and turn “Lights Out” into a feature. “You do what anyone would do when you get that call: You lock up the apartment and get on a plane,” Sandberg said, noting that the first time he ever stepped onto a Hollywood sound stage was as the director of this feature.
The “Lights Out” trailer was screened for the audience, after which Wan and Sandberg were joined by the film’s star Maria Bello, Sandberg’s wife Lotta Losten, who also has a role in the feature, and producer Lawrence Gray.
Bello said she signed onto the film after seeing the short. “When I watched it I had my eyes covered and watched it between my fingers,” she recalled. “I knew what was going to happen and I was still scared.”
Losten addressed the differences in making the short and making the feature, saying, “There were only two of us when we made the short. There were lots of people on the Hollywood set. It was different but cool. This was so much bigger. I just had to trust it.”
Sandberg joked that he had to beg people to give him $2,000 to make the two-and-a-half-minute short, but once “Lights Out” became an online sensation, Hollywood shouted, “Here’s millions of dollars.”
“The Conjuring 2” opens June 14, followed July 22 by “Lights Out.”