Warner Bros. kicked off Saturday at WonderCon with the first big movie panel of the day in the Microsoft Theater. Again, a long series of metal barriers for crowd control seemed utterly needless, as one could walk straight in, even with part of a crowd that was there for later panels like Alan Tudyk‘s Con Man. It seems a shame that by the time everyone figures out the convention layout here in L.A., it’s going right back to Anaheim next year. But happily, they will be moving it from Easter weekend, and I can stop apologizing so heavily to family for ducking out on the ham and turkey.
Screenwriter-journalist Evan Dickson, jokingly intro’d as “Eric Dickerson,” moderated a panel that kicked off with The Conjuring 2 director James Wan, whose spiky hair was looking especially anime-like. Wan credited the story and the characters for the success of the first film (seems obvious, but I know we can all think of certain films that don’t appear to have cared much about story). The Warrens, subject of the films, say they’ve investigated over 10,000 cases – Wan says they had to touch on their most famous case, which is Amityville, via the UK”s famous Enfield case.
A new trailer was shown, which looked appropriately freaky – though it’s based on “England’s Amityville,” I somehow think the mummified nun that jumps out of walls and mirrors is cinematic embellishment. A successful one, I might add; when she jumps out of the wall after a slow-build of crucifixes turning upside down, I jumped a little in my seat. A subsequent bit where Vera Farmiga sees her approach from behind in a mirror similarly has a great jump-scare “punchline.” Another ghostly threat – or is it the same one? – is a 72 year-old Australian man’s voice coming out of a 12 year-old girl. As with the Insidious films, could this be a cross-dressing spirit? We’ll find out. Most notably, when compared to the ubiquitous Blumhouse horror movies, it looks like this won’t be a movie that keeps the threat invisible.
And just as I typed this all up, WB released the actual trailer online. See for yourself:
Fans try to get Wan to talk Aquaman – he obliquely calls it “whatever I’m doing next,” and says it’s the same process and approach to filmmaking as, say, Saw. The characters and story are still the core thing, and that never changes, nor does the need to find creative solutions. Says as a fan of cinema who loves all kinds of cinema, he got very lucky in the horror genre, but the transition to action is easy because he loves all genres, and would like to grow and pursue stuff outside of what he’s known for.
A fan asks what older horror franchise he’d like to put his stamp on. Wan says he gets approached to do remakes a lot, and he fights against it. Says he’s never looked back and thought he’d want to redo any old franchises, and would rather create new stuff.
We move on to Lights Out, produced by Wan, based on a viral short created by Swedish director David F. Sandberg in his house. Wan says he wants his production company, Atomic Monster, to give young filmmakers the chance to do the kinds of things he did with Saw.
Here’s the short:
Sandberg comes out. Wan, who does most of the talking, says what he liked most about the feature is that it’s fun. For Sandberg, the first time he ever stepped on a Hollywood film set was as director.
They showed the trailer for that next, which starts off in a totally creepy warehouse of mannequins in plastic (of course!). A worker closing up turns the lights off, and sees a female shadow. Lights on – she’s gone. Lights off -she’s there again. Lights off – she’s CLOSER! It’s a great beginning, and sets up what seems to be the tale of an enraged spirit who only appears in the dark. There’s some typical police-with-flashlights action, and the trailer maybe shows a little too much of the story, but the concept is great. It opens July 22.
And you can judge for yourself now too, because again, just after I typed this, it was released for your eyes as well. Watch in the dark if you can.
Star Maria Bello is introduced, to much applause, along with the star/cocreator of the short, Sandberg’s wife Lotta Losten, and producer Lawrence Grey, who first wanted to turn the short into a film.
Bello says the story is a family drama – her character’s sister is schizophrenic, and the ghost may be her dead friend, but is she real? Bello says when you see it, ask your friends, “what is Diana?”
Wan says making Saw sucked and was no fun because he was so nervous about screwing up – he tried to help David to remember to have fun while making it, and do his own thing. Sandberg recalls a scene he wanted to light only with candles, and everyone ridiculed him for it. Then the day of that scene, Wan was on set, suggested lighting it just with candles, and the crew suddenly agreed it was a great idea.
Grey says Diana is “a new horror villain, something that you’ve never seen before.” He thinks the studios really want to find new talent and new voices, but “you kind of need to come to a knife fight with an armored tank division,” i.e. a guy with the clout of James Wan. Wan adds that the great thing about horror is that you can really take chances – it’s the only genre that has a built-in audience, and there’s no excuse, after Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, not to just shoot something. He advises the audience: “You’re the only person that’s holding you back from getting your foot in the door if you wanna go through it.”
The original short was for an online contest, and there was no feature in mind, but the central concept was strong enough to go anywhere. He had trouble even getting the money for the short, and now Hollywood’s giving him millions. Thinks the idea of a parent having an imaginary friend is scarier than when it’s a kid, because narratively a kid is too dependent on the parent. He often wakes up in the middle of the night and hallucinates – one time, even waking up shaking and screaming the word “Bread!”
Bello closes out the panel by saying she’s worried her teenage son won’t be able to sleep after seeing the movie, since he screamed at a bug in his bathroom the other day.
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image: WB/New Line