Exclusive: James Wan and Leigh Whannell Talk Insidious
In 2004 two young Australian filmmakers wowed audiences everywhere with their indie hit Saw. Though their low-budget film was an unexpected and huge box office success (which spawned many sequels), director and writer duo James Wan and Leigh Whannell had no idea the triumph of Saw would lead them down the path of being labeled as “the godfathers of torture porn.”
Since then the filmmakers have tried to make their definitive film together while living under the shadow of the dreaded “torture porn” curse, and although Dead Silence and Death Sentence were praised by horror fans for their astonishing set designs and elaborate and impressive camera work, sadly both films were panned by most mainstream critics, leading some to believe James and Leigh had pulled an “M. Night Shyamalan” with their original jaw-dropping (or jaw-trapping) hit.
Fortunately, after six years with life and film experience under their belts, Wan and Whannell chose to premiere their latest collaboration, Insidious (review here), to a fervent Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness crowd, and the screening went off without a hitch!
After their victorious comeback, Dread Central had the opportunity to talk to both filmmakers about their new film. Upon meeting James Wan for the first time, I was astonished at how friendly, humble and energetic he was despite how exhausted he must have been from the previous night’s screening. Beaming from the news of Sony buying Insidious a mere four hours after the screening, he fed his much needed caffeine fix with a swig of Coca-Cola and then proceeded to tell us about his level of excitement.
BE WARNED: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!
“I’m very excited and very happy about it,” he explained. “I was up until 6 in the morning talking to my producers back in L.A. I’m exhausted right now.”
Considering Insidious was such a departure from his previous films, Wan also took the time to explain how anxious he was about the screening.
“I was so nervous leading up to the screening because of these rabid hardcore genre fans,” he admitted. “They really love the genre, but they’re still desensitized to it as well. It’s not like a wacky horror comedy which seems to do much better [at the box office]. We set out to make a realistic and more grounded horror film, but at the same time paying homage to the horror films that we grew up loving as well,” he added.
Viewers should know that unlike Wan’s other films, Insidious surprisingly lacks any blood and gore. Although I commented on a bloody handprint shown on a character’s bedsheets onscreen, Wan was quick to point out what the stained handprint really was: “Let me clarify that the handprint on the bed actually wasn’t blood. It was lipstick! The main villain in the movie is known as ‘the lipstick-faced demon.’ I don’t think many people caught that, but I didn’t really want a character to point out and say ‘Look, it’s lipstick on his bed!’" he joked.
Wan also explained how it was his true intention to prove to audiences that he could do more than terrorize the audience with blood, guts and sawed off feet.
“Hell, yes, it was my intention! It is extremely ironic that I am known as the ‘granddaddy of torture porn’ even though the first Saw film really didn’t have much blood or guts in it and it was really a psychological thriller shot like a horror film. It was really the sequels afterwards that cemented that subgenre, and because mine was the first one, I got actively thrown back into it. Leigh Whannell and I started talking, and we were like, ‘Well, we love our blood and guts, but scary movies should not just be about this! Scary movies should be about SCARING you regardless if it’s a guy with a knife or if it’s that chair moving on its own over there,’" he added. “That would be freaky on its own, and that’s what we wanted to do with Insidious.”
"I really wanted to punctuate a creepy atmosphere. I described this film as a ‘supernatural chiller.’"
Like Wan’s previous efforts, Insidious was also shot in a very short amount of time. The filmmakers admitted on stage at the premiere that it only took 22 days to shoot the film.
“It was insane. I filmed Saw in 18 days and that was tough. For it to do what it did, I was shocked," explained Wan. “People don’t realize if you make a movie [like Insidious] that’s more slow-bruting and slow-burning that it’s not easier to do. You’re holding on longer shots that need to be more perfect. You could scrutinize everything if something is not right and if your timing’s off, you’re screwed. Shooting a movie like Saw, you can cut around things easily, but making a film like The Others and Sixth Sense actually cost a lot of money to make. It’s the controlled films that are the hardest to pull off. I’m very thankful to a great cast and crew for helping pull it off,” he exclaimed.