Conjuring a Universe: James Wan, Creepy Dolls and Demon Nuns
The Conjuring franchise has dominated mainstream horror cinema in the twenty-first century. The success of The Conjuring inspired sequels and spin-offs (Annabelle and The Nun), each beginning further franchise strands. Annabelle: Creation tipped the franchise’s box office returns over $1billion, making it the third most successful horror series of all time and “a full-blown cinematic universe that any studio would envy” (Mendelson). At the universe’s centre is writer/producer/director James Wan, whose reputation has shifted from an uncomfortable association with “splat pack” horror as co-creator of the Saw series, to a blockbuster horror auteur (Bernard). Wan’s particular brand of contemporary Gothic, favouring demonic possession and haunted houses over shock and gore, connects the Conjuring franchise with other films including Insidious and Lights Out, and his involvement is promoted with each new instalment, anchoring every film to his original. This article charts the expansion of The Conjuring series, examining how its connected characters, narratives and aesthetics contribute to a worldbuilding approach which builds on its popular origins by way of Wan's status. This contemporary horror universe is marketed as a complex, evolving auterist creation weaved from a single, central source—and is deliberately distanced from the idea of a calculated, producer-led franchise.