When The Conjuring hit theaters back in July of 2013, it was a smash success — one of those rare R-rate horror films that connects with audiences on a massive scale. But such seems to be the gift of James Wan, the director behind three hit horror franchises (Saw and Insidious being the other two), who cemented himself as a box office force with last year’s record-breaking Furious 7, and who will leave the ghastly and ghoulish behind in favor of superheroes when he goes off to direct Aquaman. But first, we get one last attempt to capture Wan’s creepy lightening in a bottle with The Conjuring 2.
The sequel picks up with paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorrain Warren, played again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, as they take on another terrifying case of domestic haunting and possession. This time, they travel across the pond for the famed Enfield poltergeist case, which saw a family of limited means — single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four young children; Margaret, age 13, Janet, age 11, Johnny, age 10 and Billy, age 7 — tormented by paranormal spirits.
From a pair of monitors on Stage 4 of the Warner Bros. Lot in Burbank, California, I sit at a table with five other journalists watching as Wan and Co. film the highly-anticipated sequel. It’s day sixteen out of fifty – the production will shoot forty of those days on stages and locations in L.A. and the rest in London. On the monitors, a haggard old man with reptilian blackout contacts, dingy teeth, and withered, sallow skin chomps, grimaces and wheezes at the camera in extreme close-up. The man, called “Old Bill”, is one of the spirits tormenting the family, and his target is young Janet, played by Madison Wolfe. It’s a strange thing to watch — a grown man making unnerving faces at a camera for minutes on end, but perhaps the perfect footage to set the mood for a series of interviews with the cast to the sequel of one of the scariest films in recent memory.
- The stage on which they filmed, Stage 4 on the Warner Bros. Lot, is supposedly a notoriously haunted location, but it’s believed to be haunted by benign spirits of former employees.
- Madison Wolfe plays Janet Hodgson, the young girl at the center of the paranormal assault. Said Wolfe, “At first she is kind of shy about it. I think that everyone else around her is kind of scared of her, and they shut her out at that time. So she kind of shuts everyone else out and she is feeling really lonely. But then she kind of realizes that [The Warrens] can actually help her and she starts to open up to them.”
The spirits behind the haunting are going to get very physical again, especially one by the name of “Old Bill”, (aka the guy I watched make faces at the camera). For one scene, which finds Old Bill trapping Janet on the ceiling, they constructed an upside down set.
- Another interesting on-set rig was designed for the subsequent sequence you may have seen in the first teaser trailer, which finds Janet stuck in a room lined with crucifixes as they all turn upside down, one by one. To create the effect, they designed a series of mechanical rigs that would flip each individual crucifix in time as Wan panned around the room.
- Amityville is the new Anabelle: Arguably The Warren’s most famous case, audiences will visit the attic of Amityville once again in the opening segment of the film. Said Wilson, ” It was a big case, and a controversial case, and that’s one of the things that James loves to do, is like he’s not afraid of the of the controversy. It’s not like, ‘Well, we can’t bring up Amityville because there have been 77 movies.’ No. They went to Amityville, they have very strong feelings about Amityville, so it’s ok. You go for it.”
- Wolfe singles out The Conjuring as her favorite scary movie: “I’m not trying to be biased or anything [Laughing]. A lot of scary movies are so worried about scaring you that there is no plot. Nothing connects with each other, but I think The Conjuring did that well.”
Lorraine will be overcome by supernatural force this time around. Said Farmiga, “This is the first time Ed and Lorraine see a physical manifestation where she is physically affected. It traps her behind — without revealing too much. But you’re going to see it, so, it physically traps her.”
- The biggest challenge for Farmiga is playing a woman she knows at a younger age. ” I’m playing a 40-year-old and she’s in her 80s. Those are things that affect your speech and your breath, and your gait, the way you move through space. The hardest thing for me is to really disassociate the two and rewind the time to see what the younger woman was like.”
- The sequel will dig deeper into the incident that scarred Lorraine. Farmiga explained, “I think the audience is very curious about what exactly she saw the last time. And we’re going to explore that. We’re going to see her psychic abilities challenged this time around, which will be incredibly disconcerting for this dynamic duo because they rely on her. It’s all about what she senses and what she picks up on.”
- The actors are still close with Lorraine Warren. Said Wilson, “Vera and I went up there this summer, again, just on our own. We just sort of wanted to reconnect with her, because it had been a couple years and she’s not young. She’s still sharp as a tack, and so it was nice hanging out.”
After becoming friends with Lorraine, the biggest challenge for Farmiga is disassociating the woman she knows from the woman she would have been 40 years ago. “she’s in her late 80s now, I’m talking to a very latter version of her. So my tendency is to want to embody all that eccentricity of her age and wisdom, but everything has changed. I’m playing a 40-year-old and she’s in her 80s. Those are things that affect your speech and your breath, and your gait, the way you move through space. The hardest thing for me is to really disassociate the two and rewind the time to see what the younger woman was like.”
- Wolfe, who looks completely natural in her full costume, transformed herself entirely for the role (seriously look at the image above and then google “Madison Wolfe”, it’s a trip.) “I completely transformed to do this role. A couple months ago I had long blonde hair. I’m wearing colored contacts right now. In the movie I have fake teeth and I speak with a British accent. So I’m literally like the opposite.”
- Frances O’Conner said Wan reminded her of Spielberg, who she worked with on A.I. “I just feel like he’s such an all-rounder. He seems to be — for all the different departments — he’ll hone in and give you, like, two notes, and then you’ll see him go to the camera department or lighting — all the different aspects of when you’re shooting a shot. And he’s just on top of all of it. I feel like he kind of edits in his head. I think Spielberg does that a lot, too. He just seems very calm too. He also just has that love of it, I think. He just loves being on a set. It’s just a nice environment to be in. Even if it gets stressful, it’s motivating, I think, for actors. “
The Conjuring 2 arrives in theaters June 10th.