The Further Hauntings: James Wan takes the Lambert family back into the gloaming with 'Insidious: Chapter 2'
James Wan is one of the busiest directors in horror today. His two most recent features are appearing on screens nearly back-to-back: the current smash hit The Conjuring, and the highly anticipated Insidious: Chapter 2, which Film District brings to theatres on Friday, Sept. 13. Not only that, Wan will direct the first installment in a new trilogy of the Fast & Furious super-franchise, which begins shooting this summer, timed for a 2014 release.
The celebrated horror team of Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, who first gained notoriety with the immensely successful 2004 chiller Saw, reunite for Insidious: Chapter 2 with the original cast of Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey and Ty Simpkins. Wan’s first sequel follows the family, still haunted by spirits, as they try to figure out why they are still connected to a forbidding realm called “The Further.” Jocelin Donahue (The House Of The Devil, The Burrowers) also joins the cast, playing a young Lorraine Lambert (Barbara Hershey’s character), which has led fans to believe that we are going to get an idea of what life was like with her son, Josh (Wilson), the ultimate astral projectionist.
Wan made the time to speak with Film Journal International and he told us all of gritty and terrifying details about Insidious Chapter 2: shooting at haunted hospitals, astral projection and time travel, practical effects, and creating memorable scares.
FJI: Insidious 2 is one of the most anticipated sequels in horror—and this is the first sequel that you’ve ever directed yourself. Saw, of course, had several sequels, none of which you directed. What has this experience been like for you?
James Wan: It’s kind of strange in that it’s like I’m making the same movie, because it’s with the same characters and same world. It’s the same movie with a different story. The story pretty much picks up from where the first movie ended. It’s kinda cool in that respect. It’s like coming home and working with people and places you know.
FJI: Is there a certain dynamic that comes out of working with Leigh Whannell as often as you have? Is there a familiarity or different dynamic that comes from shooting a second film with the same cast and crew?
JW: It definitely helps. It helps to know who you’re working with. I think the biggest advantage…I could see why people enjoy working with the same people, because you get to revisit your characters again. That’s one of my favorite things, getting the chance to revisit the characters that Rose, Patrick and Barbara created in the first movie. I like those characters and [having] the chance to see them again and play with them again. It was like a homecoming of some sort, it was nostalgic in that way.
FJI: Knowing how passionate horror fans are and the occasionally judgmental attitudes they have about sequels and continuity, was figuring out how this film should start a challenge?
JW: I really considered whether or not to come back to do it. I never did any of the Saw sequels, for the reason I didn’t feel like I had a story to tell anymore and I wasn’t interested in coming back. But with Insidious 2, I felt the way we finished the movie really did leave it on a cliffhanger and I wanted to answer some of the questions the fans were asking. Like what happened to the family? What happened with Patrick’s and Rose’s characters? I saw this as an opportunity to catch up. At the same time, I was very mindful of how people feel about sequels. Leigh and I would only come back and do a sequel if we could achieve getting all the actors back to play the same characters and basically tell the story that we started but never really finished. That’s why it’s called chapter two—it’s not just a sequel, it’s a direct continuation of chapter one. Insidious 2 is not with a brand-new family where bad stuff happens, or a completely different story. It’s literally chapter two.
FJI: The rumor is that the film deals more heavily with time travel, that we see Josh’s past?
JW: Yes. We haven’t given much of the story away, but Leigh and I felt that we could deal more with the mythology seen in the movie. Like when Patrick’s character was younger, he was afflicted with the same condition as his son, Josh. We thought it would be fun to visit that moment when Lin Shaye’s character was called in to help young Josh. The great thing about creating the world that we did with the father was that we could have a lot of fun because time was nebulous in that space. The second movie, in a way, visits the first movie, but I won’t give too much away about all that…but it’s all pretty cool.
FJI: What do you think is the secret to your success in the horror genre?
JW: I don’t know if I can pinpoint a particular saying, or formula. The way I make scary movies is I try to find things that I find scary myself. I hope that I can shoot it in such a way that other people will feel the same. I can only use myself as a gauge, so I like to think that if I’m creeped out by certain things, others may have the same reaction as well. I tend to find that most of us have the same, universal fears. We fear loneliness, we fear the dark, and we fear the unknown. So it’s just trying to find ways to slice those fears and capture that in camera, then putting that into your filmmaking in the construction of your scares. So that’s pretty much how I approach it, then hope for the best, hope that people feel the same way. And fortunately for me, it seems very effective, people go along with it.
FJI: There were several really cool shooting locations—the Linda Vista Hospital included. Can you tell us about that?
JW: In this next movie we visit this old hospital that has been shut down. Leigh and I had heard so much about Linda Vista and we’ve never made a movie there, so we thought: Why don’t we have our characters visit Linda Vista? So that’s what we did. A little section of the film is set in Linda Vista, and it was fun but creepy at the same time.
FJI: Did anything creepy happen while shooting in the hospital?
JW: It didn’t happen to me, but apparently one of the grip guys said that when he was between shots, waiting in the stairwell alone, he felt like someone, a little kid, grab hold of his hand. He thought it was a bug, but then he looked down and didn’t see anyone there.
FJI: Can you talk about the effects used in the film? Are they mostly practical effects?
JW: It’s really no different from how I approached the first one. It pretty much has that low-budget, indie spirit to it, and because of that I didn’t want to use a lot of computer graphics. That forces me in my filmmaking to create a sense of mood, a sense of creepiness through the camerawork, through performances, through the sound design and music. That’s the approach I tend to do with all my scary films. I did exactly the same thing with The Conjuring. But the difference with Conjuring is that it’s a studio film and I actually had more time and money to construct my scenes, and believe it or not, with more time and money you can do better things. So The Conjuring was a really great experience in that respect.
FJI: Are you more attached to Insidious than Saw?
JW: I had a business relationship with Saw. I had high aspirations in terms of my filmmaking. It was my first film, so I didn’t know any better. The vision I had in my head could be shot in 18 days, and only could be pulled off with ten million dollars as opposed to the one million I had to make that film. So I learned fast that time and a budget to make a movie are very important. I felt with Saw it was a fight every day for a shot that I could not get, for things I could not get, for performances I didn’t have the time to play with, and construction of scenes that I didn’t have time to do… But I think there was enough stuff in that movie to make it work, and for it to become as big as it was. It’s sweet, I’m very thankful for what Saw did for me. It gave me a start in my career and so many people love the Saw films. But with Insidious, I felt that my filmmaking, understanding and learning have come such a long way that I got to make more of the film that I wanted to make than I did with the first Saw.
FJI: And after this, you’re going to be directing Fast & Furious 7. Are you looking forward to doing something different, and what will you bring to the table for that series?
JW: I’m a bigger action/thriller fan than I am a horror/thriller guy, but it just so happens that I’ve been very fortunate in the horror genre. Most of the chances I’ve had so far have been in the horror genre, but I really want to branch out and do action films and action thrillers. I dabbled a bit on Death Sentence, but no one saw it, so it doesn’t help me in any way. But I really love what I was playing with in Death Sentence. I feel like I want to continue that with the chance that I have in a big way, and with money so that I can create cool action scenes and stunts. I love what the Fast & Furious series has done so far, but I want to bring my own style to it. My own stuff has to be more suspense-driven. I want my action scenes to be more scary and suspenseful—that’s my aim.