The Conjuring 2 opened this weekend number one at the domestic box office with an impressive forty million dollars. Director James Wan has another big hit on his hands and so today I wanted to look at his filmography, specifically his horror films. Sorry Death Sentence and Furious 7 I won’t be talking about you today (but maybe we’ll get to them down the line). For the time being let’s see how many horror subgenres Wan has dabbled in and the success of each film.
Has it seriously been over a decade since Saw hit theaters? Hard to believe this micro-budget horror film went onto become a seven film franchise (and two video games) that has nearly grossed a billion dollars. But let’s focus on the film that started it all. My first encounter with this film was on a promo DVD that Lionsgate had bundled with The Punisher’s initial release. Not knowing for sure what it was I popped it in and watched the Reverse Bear Trap scene. I was blown away and wanted to see it. I had to wait until it came out on DVD since I was only sixteen at the time. I borrowed it from a friend one night and was blown away. It was a fresh idea with a twist that I did not see coming. Wan crafted an entertaining whodunit that for better or worse ushered in a decade of knock-offs that continued to up the gore with varying amounts of success. While the sequels were a mixed bag quality wise this one is and probably will always be the best. Much like the original Halloween it proved that a good script and strong director trumps a bigger budget.
If there is one thing that completely terrifies me it’s ventriloquist dummies. I’ve hated them as a kid and I hate them as an adult. So I was hoping that a horror film focusing on dummies would completely creep me out. While it had some good scares for the most part it fell flat. The film’s biggest downfall was trying craft another twist to shock audiences. I remember sitting in a near empty theater and when they revealed the twist someone a few aisles in front of me loudly exclaim, “Are you fucking kidding me!?” I couldn’t agree more. While the atmosphere of the film was creepy the script didn’t know where it wanted to go. Screenwriter Leigh Whannell admitted that the he was pressured into writing this film without having much interest. He even compared it to trying to take a shit after a night of heavy drinking. On the plus side, Charlie Clouser’s soundtrack is chilling. It’s not a great film, but it’s a guilty pleasure for me. If you’re willing to waste an hour and a half this film is on Netflix Instant.
After a four year hiatus Wan returned with a new collaboration from screenwriter and friend Leigh Whannell. I appreciate that the duo wanted to make this film as a counterpoint to Saw. Cutting the gore down to a bare minimum and upping the spooky factor Insidious was a new take on the ghost genre. While it was fantastic to see talented actors like Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne take the leads it was Lin Shaye who made this movie. Her performance as clairvoyant Elise Reiner was what sold this film for me. While other characters try to sell the scare factor it was her description of the demon that was truly creepy. While this film has issues including a finale that you’re either going to go with or check out of it’s worth watching for any horror fan.
I can not remember the last time I got this excited about an upcoming horror film. When I found out that a film based off the cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren was in the works I was stoked. Throw into it that Wan was directing and it became one of my most anticipated films of 2013. I remember two months prior to this film’s release I was having a conversation with someone I knew about the state of filmmaking. He declared that horror was dead because Texas Chainsaw 3D hadn’t been a runaway hit. I politely told him that out of all the genres horror was extremely popular and to see how well The Conjuring would perform opening in July. Of course the film was a hit and I never heard if he’d reassessed his thoughts. I love this film as Wan stripped away all the stylized visuals of the Insidious series and made a film that felt completely realistic. Seeing Carolyn’s life slowly get eroded away by this evil presence and how it affected the family is as interesting as it is creepy. But it was Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s portrayals as the Warrens that made this movie stand out. They took this couple who had an extremely unorthodox career and showed the sometimes normalcy of their lives. I really loved the small moments where we see them at home with their daughter or helping out around the Perron house with chores. If you couldn’t tell I enjoyed this film immensely. I’d say it’s probably one of (if not the) best horror films in the past twenty years.
-Insidious: Chapter 2-
For the first time Wan had decided to return to direct a sequel. This was something that excited me. What was it about Insidious that made him want to direct the sequel? Picking up immediately after the original film’s conclusion Wan and Whannell delved deeper into the mysteries of what had been set up. Who was this woman who’d been haunting Josh since he was a kid? I tend to call this film the Back to the Future II of horror films since both films took the dicey risk of going back into events from the previous entry and looking at them from a different perspective. Some people hated this and some liked it, I honestly fall into the latter. While the Insidious series can be a mixed bag all films have great moments. It may not match part one in terms of creativity, but Chapter 2 is still worth watching.
-The Conjuring 2-
After Insidious: Chapter 2 James Wan had declared that he was done directing horror films wanting to move onto new genres and not get pigeonholed. After showing his skills as an action director with Furious 7 he decided to return and direct The Conjuring 2. Whatever his reasons may be it’s a good thing he did. I had a lot of anticipation for this follow-up and wondered how it would compare to the original. Would it be just as good or be added to the long list of subpar horror sequels? Thankfully the film was a worthy sequel. This time around there is more focus on the Warren’s and that to me was it’s strongest aspect. It was nice to see more of their lives and the genuine love they had for each other. Of course the case they’re investigating makes for great chills. The change of landscape from an American farmhouse to an English flat was wise. It gave the film a fresh feel and distinct look. My only problem was how it felt like the studio thought they needed to up the scare factor. While it may have scarier moments than the original it also felt less grounded in reality. There were moments where the style felt more in tone with the Insidious series. Putting those minor quibbles aside it’s a fantastic film and if you’re looking for a good scare see it in theaters right now.
It’s been an interesting decade and some change for director James Wan with a lot of ups and some minor downs. He’s managed to craft eight films and has no sign of slowing down. His next film will be a return to blockbuster filmmaking with the adaptation of DC Comic’s Aquaman. After that who knows what he’ll be doing, but odds are I’ll be in the theater watching it. As usual, what are your thoughts? Do you enjoy Wan’s style? Do you think he’ll continue to make great horror films? Are you excited to see Aquaman? As always thanks for reading.