James Wan talks about redefining himself after ‘Saw’ with ‘The Conjuring’

One thing’s certain: it’s hard to forget James Wan after you meet him.

For example, I’ve never heard anyone who worked with him have a bad word to say about the guy. That’s genuinely unusual in this business, and you can’t overrate the impression it makes on people. For another thing, you almost can’t believe how wildly “Crocodile Dundee” he gets when he speaks. I think that’s what I love about Australian accents in general… you can’t go too big when imitating them, because they are big accents to begin with.

The last time I spoke to him, he was joined by his writing partner Leigh Wannell at the Magic Castle, part of the press day for “Insidious,” and he seemed happy with the reactions he was getting for that one. One of the things we discussed in this new interview is how he’s finally become more than just “the director of ‘Saw,'” and how hard it is to be defined by the success of your first film no matter what else you do.

I think Wan won’t have to worry about that after “The Conjuring” is released in July. It feels like he figured something out a few years ago and refocused himself, and the result has been a new energy to his filmmaking. During the WonderCon panel, as the clips were playing, I watched him watching the crowd, and every time they jumped or reacted or anytime someone tried to break the nervous tension in the room, Wan looked delighted. He genuinely loves the emotional experience of scaring the holy hell out of people, and he’s more in touch with that skill set now than ever before.

This script was written by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, and while their resume might not inspire immediate confidence in genre fans (the “House Of Wax” remake, “The Reaping,” “Whiteout”), maybe it’s just a matter of alchemy, because collaborating with Wan suits them well. If you like his work with Leigh Whannell, don’t worry. They’re already wrapping up work on “Insidious: Chapter Two,” which picks up almost immediately after the first film, and I’m curious to see how long Wan continues to work with Patrick Wilson. Three in a row for them now, and it certainly feels like Wan has found a lead actor who he has real chemistry with.

We’ll have more for you on “The Conjuring” in the days ahead. The film opens in theaters July 19, 2013.