[Interview] James Wan On The Difficult Shoot Of ‘Insidious: Chapter 2′ And Which Film Is His True Goodbye To Horror

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Director James Wan is having quite the year. After the phenomenal success of The Conjuring (and before being whisked away to direct Fast 7 for Universal) he found the time to once again collaborate with writer Leigh Whannell to finish what he started in 2010 by delivering Insidious: Chapter 2.

I spoke with him a few months back and we talked about the difficulties of returning to the indie world after the studio experience that was The Conjuring. Wan also elaborates on his break from horror and which film he wants to be seen as his swan song to the genre.

In theaters September 13, “The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.

When I saw you on set earlier this year it seemed like you were going for a bigger melange in terms of “The Further.” You’re stepping away from horror for a bit, is this you doing your final huge canvas?

I actually would say that The Conjuring is my last horror film. It’s kind of weird, I shot Insidious 2 right after I shot Conjuring but – because it’s a direct continuation with the same people – I look at the two Insidious films as one big movie. I don’t look at it as a sequel, it’s just a continuation of the first one that I never got to finish.

In that respect The Conjuring is my last one, and between these two [films] that one is kind of my swan song to the genre.

With the cast, you’re filming something three years later but it picks up about one second after the first film ended.

I know. The grown-ups are all pretty much the same but the kids just grow so quickly, especially when they’re around 9, 10 or 11 years old. That’s the reason Insidious 2 needed to get going, because if we’re picking it up directly after the first one, we couldn’t let it go another year. I didn’t want to do one a year, like they did with Saw. But we had to do it quickly because people change. It was something that the studio wanted to do as soon as possible and I totally understood that. It’s why I rolled right in from The Conjuring, literally finishing the mix and then starting the script process with Leigh the next day.

I thought that after Insidious 2 I would be able to take a long break and just chill and figure out my next movie…

But Universal had other plans [Wan is directing Fast 7 for that studio].

Yes.

Being on the set of both The Conjuring and Insidious Chapter 2 it felt like you were in a different space on both films. On the former you had more time, more money and a more measured pace. On Insidious 2 you’re literally in this black room doubling as The Further running and gunning utilizing this great shorthand you’ve developed with Patrick Wilson.

I would say that with The Conjuring I definitely had the time and resources to do it, because it was a proper studio film. It wasn’t a big movie by a long shot, but I had the resources. But with Insidious 2 it was back to indie filmmaking again and it was kind of hard to flip my head back to how I’d been doing it. You forget how quickly you get spoiled by having the time to work with your actors to pull the right performances out of them and design your shots. I now really admire the big directors that have 100 days to shoot their movies and you kind of go, “well no wonder their movie looks so good!”

So when I got snapped back into Insidious 2 it was a real big rude awakening about how difficult it is to get back into that world again. The complaint in indie movies is usually that you have the creative freedom to do what you want, which is true, but you just don’t have the kind of money [you want]. You do what you want, but you [need to]get it done on time and budget.

The downside of studio movies is that you have more time, money and toys – but you don’t have the creative freedom. The Conjuring was the first time I’d had the time and money of a studio movie, but with the creative freedom of an indie movie. It was fantastic. I had the best of both worlds and it really shows in the final product.

But coming back to Insidious 2 knowing Patrick so well, even though I was shooting on the fly we never touched the ground. It was so quick and indie, you just shoot and hope what you get is good enough to put together a movie. Having that shorthand with my crew and Patrick allowed me to do it. That’s the only way I think I could have done Insidious 2 the way that we did it. It was definitely one of the hardest movies I’ve ever had to make. It was such a tough shoot.

  • WalkWithMeInDarkness

    I hope James isn’t done with horror for good. I understand he wants to branch out and do other things, but that doesn’t mean he can never do a horror movie again. Don’t give it up entirely, just do other things for a while and then come back to it. In another interview I saw, when he said The Conjuring and Insidious were his last horror movies, the interviewer asked if he meant ever and he said “You can never say ever”, so that gives me at least a little hope he’ll come back to the genre. Regardless, I’ll watch anything he does.

  • undertaker78

    James Wan is one of my absolute favorites but it saddens and upsets me that directors like him move onto “bigger and better” things. Almost like saying horror is a second rate genre and not where one can truly build a respectable career. I understand branching out, but to pretty much give up on the genre that essentially gave you life, is disheartening.

    • WalkWithMeInDarkness

      I completely agree. Wes Craven seemed to be like that at one time, but eventually came to fully embrace being a genre director. I’d love to be a horror filmmaker and even if I ever decided to branch out, I’d always come back to horror.

  • EvilHead1981

    I don’t mind that he’s taking a break, here’s hoping not forever, because I can respect he wants to try new things and genres. But, I DO hope he returns, someday, to horror. He might be one of the GREATEST modern horror directors out there right now. He “gets it” where others fail to even grasp the concept of what horror really is. While everyone else is racing to make as much garden variety pointless gore, pointless sex/nudity and throw-away characters, Wan actually strives to make something that lingers pass the theater experience(and it IS an experience). Something with characters that aren’t you dime-store slut or fratboy douchebag, but ones that actually come off as being real and human, to the point you WANT them to survive whatever ordeal they are facing. That’s what a lot of horror, IMO, fails to grasp. Of course, I don’t mean there is no place for the pointless exploitation-style horror. There is, but that’s a dime-a-dozen nowadays. Gimme something haunting, that sends a chill down my spine. Something with tension and subtlety. If I want meaty gory goodness, I know where to find. But THIS prize delicacy is a rare treat.

    • WalkWithMeInDarkness

      Great comment and all of it is so true. I’m all for blood and gore if it’s a slasher or something, but graphic violence certainly has no effect on me in terms of being scared. Darkness, silence, fear of the unknown, creepy houses, creaking doors, footsteps and the truly unnerving feeling that I’m being watched? That shit gives me chills just typing about it.

    • MidnightMayhem

      agreed.

  • MidnightMayhem

    I am not worried at all that James Wan won’t return to horror. He created a monster fan base and there is no way that he can’t be willing to support that fan base. Insidious 2 ends with a set up for a 3rd installment with a different family. He could easily take a break for a few years and still come back to it. I’m even expecting a Conjuring 2 at some point. He might even find out that horror is the only genre where he can express his creative freedom.