By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—James Wan’s films are a bit like New York taxis. If you miss one, another will come along shortly.
The 36-year-old filmmaker of Malaysian and Chinese descent is one of the big brains behind the hit “Saw” films. Though he directed only the first installment of what has become a wildly successful franchise, Wan executive produced three of the sequels with frequent collaborator Leigh Whannell. Meantime, he has made less gory though no less frightening horror flicks, including the recent box office hit “The Conjuring,” starring Vera Farmiga and his go-to actor Patrick Wilson (who previously starred in Wan’s “Insidious” and reappears in “Insidious: Chapter 2.”)
The first thing that strikes you about Wan if you’ve never heard him speak before is his pronounced Aussie accent and how rapidly he speaks. Think Martin Scorsese if he hailed from Melbourne instead of Manhattan. Though born in Kuching (formerly Sarawak) in the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, Wan was brought to Oz as a child where his love of film and videogames was fostered. He gravitated particularly toward suspense and horror, in particular the dark, multilayered mysteries of Alfred Hitchcock.
Having enjoyed box office and critical success this year with his more mainstream horror flick “The Conjuring,” based on a true story about a pair of paranormal explorers who meet their match in a haunted Rhode Island house, Wan barely had time to catch his breath before he had to start production on “Insidious: Chapter 2,” which he wrapped earlier this year and is due in theaters Sept. 13. The sequel picks up right where 2011’s supernatural thriller left off. Wilson reprises his role as Josh Lambert and Rose Byrne is back as his wife, Renai. Together, they have to protect themselves and their children from a sinister force from the spirit world that seems to be following them.
Wan spoke about his two horror flicks, coming out less than two months apart, as well his upcoming monster challenge: directing the seventh (yes, seventh!) installment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise.
Q: What inspired you to return for the “Insidious: Chapter 2” sequel?
Wan: When Leigh and I decided to come back to this and take on the challenge of doing a number two, we felt that the natural story was to do the one that (picks up) at the end of the first one, where we left off at the end of the first movie. It was a natural progression for the next movie’s storyline could go. So, yes, it is a direct continuation from the first movie, and basically it wraps up that family’s storyline.
Q: At what point did you think about making the second and how did you get the whole cast to come back for the sequel? Were you just lucky or did you have them sign on for two pictures initially?
Wan: No. I never make a movie thinking I’ll go on to make a sequel. That would be presumptuous and I’m superstitious. (He laughs.) I don’t want to think about No. 2 when No. 1 hasn’t come out, for example. When the first one came out and did really well there was this appetite for a future installment, a future storyline that continued the story. We batted around a few ideas and we kept coming back to the idea where we left off at the end of the first one, it seems like a natural, organic way for that universe, that storyline to continue. So Leigh and I talked about what if we continue the family from the first movie. We knew the only way this would work is if we could get everyone to come back. It took a lot of wrangling. We had to deal with people’s scheduling. Everyone was off doing their own thing. So that was pretty hard. Kudos to Jason (Blum), the producer and Film District as well for being able to pull all that together, and so we wrote a movie around that.
Q: Your style of filmmaking, with the long takes and such, is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. Are you a fan of them?
Wan: Yeah. I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock. I love Polanski as well but I’m a much bigger Hitchcock fan. That’s what makes it fun—building the suspense. I love film crafting. I think there’s a lot of art to crafting these movies, whether that’s from a technical standpoint or from backing up your storytelling standpoint. I really love that. I find that these movies—the “Insidious” films and “The Conjuring” as well and even the first “Saw”—allowed me to play with that. People ask me, “What is it about the horror genre that you love?” Besides being a fan of the genre, I feel that the genre allows me to do a lot as a director. It allows me a lot of things to play with.
Q: Do you ever feel haunted?
Wan: No. Luckily, no. I’d be terrified. I’m a big chickens***. People have a preconceived notion that because I make so many scary movies and I’m so good at doing it that I’m not scared of them. It’s the opposite. Being scared of these things allows me to tap into it and allows me to convey it and put it on screen. In the same way, to be a good comedian, you need to have a sense of humor.
Q: You said you’re superstitious. So do you believe in ghosts and what’s your take on the afterlife?
Wan: I like to say that I’m open-minded to things. I don’t shut things out. Just because I can’t see (ghosts), doesn’t mean they don’t exist. (He laughs.)
Q: What are your plans for “Fast 7?”
Wan: I guess that’s part of the biggest challenge for me right now in taking over the “Fast & Furious” franchise right now is how established it is. Right? It’s No. 7 and it’s so beloved by the fans and the general movie-going public. I do want to honor that world and what it is that people love about these films but at the same time I want to bring my own stamp to it. What I’m very good at is suspense and tension, and I want to bring that into the drama scenes and I want to bring that into the action sequences. Like “Death Sentence,” I tried to make the action sequences kind of scary in some way, for lack of a better description.