James Wan blazed onto the scene with the audacious indie "Saw," then continued to carve out an especially unsettling niche in the horror genre with the low-budget box-office hit "Insidious" and this summer's runaway hit, "The Conjuring." Now, "Insidious: Chapter 2," which opens this Friday (the 13th) takes us deeper into "The Further," and the horrifying cliffhanger teased in the original film is now a "Shining"-esque situation where daddy isn't quite himself.
We sat down with Wan back in July, as his last interview of the day. He was a little weary of talking about ghosts and horror, and we soon learned why: he intends this to be his last film in the genre. He did, however, perk up when talking about a reality TV horror show that genuinely terrified him and his plans for the genre he plans to put his stamp on next.
Moviefone: This story, which continues from the first film is fairly involved. Did you plan it all out from the beginning?
James Wan: The short answer is "no." If people tell you, "Oh yeah," that's a lie. As a filmmaker, I don't make movies to make sequels, if that makes sense. If sequels come from it, then that's great. It meant that the audiences connected with the first movie and it was successful and people wanted to see more. So from that perspective, it's great. But I don't set out to make sequels.
Is that why you didn't do "Saw II?"
That's why I never did any of the "Saw" sequels, because I felt that, the story that I wanted to tell with the "Saw" film, I'd already told it and I didn't want to repeat myself. Whereas, I did "Insidious: Chapter 2" because I felt I never finished that story. In a lot of ways, I see the two films as one big movie. When I made the first one, it was like "Oh, I ran out of money and I'll just finish it here." And then that became "Insidious 1" and then I was like, "Okay, I'll get the checks and then finish the rest."
The film ends with a clear set-up for "Chapter 3." Do you plan to direct that one too?
I'm going to go on record and say I am finished with the horror genre. "Conjuring" and "Insidious 2" are my two last scary movies.
Why is that?
I spent the last ten years of my life doing this. It's time for a change, for goodness sake!
Do you feel you'd become stuck in the genre?
That applies to anything. Hollywood puts you in a box. If you do a successful comedy, then you're know as The Comedy Guy. If you do a successful car chase movie, then you become that guy. So I'm a student of cinema, so I just want to make sure I get the chance to make other kinds of films.
Well, you're going out with style. You have these great, spooky sets, including an abandoned hospital and a spooky old Victorian house. That must have been fun.
Yeah, making these movies, in a lot of ways, it's all about the set pieces. I kind of wanted to continue some of the set pieces from the first one, but to expand on it.
So you're definitely handing off the third film?
Well... if there is a third one. Who knows? Hopefully the second one does well.
This one seems to be an homage to "The Shining," and maybe a tiny bit of "Psycho."
Right, right. [Laughs] Yes. I described the first movie as "a haunted house movie with a twist," this one is "a domestic thriller with a supernatural twist." And that's what "The Shining" is. It's a domestic thriller with a supernatural quality on top of it. That's why I think the comparison is there.
There's even a bit of humor when it's quite clear, in some scenes, that Josh (Patrick Wilson) is not himself.
Oh, yeah. My tongue was firmly in my cheek there.
Do you ever watch "Paranormal Witness"? The couple from "The Conjuring" is featured in one episode, the one that became the movie "The Haunting in Connecticut."
I don't, but a couple of nights ago I wanted to catch "The Conjuring" trailer and I was on the Syfy channel and "Paranormal Witness" was on. Holy smoke! I was so scared! I was like, "Oh, my god. This is so frightening!" I didn't see my trailer, but I got so freaked out by the show I was watching. I cannot remember what episode it was, but they're all kind of the same: A family moves into a house and there's something scary in the house, right? I was like, "See, there's a reason why these stories work so well, because we can all relate to it." That's why haunted house movies live on forever. As long as we live in houses, we will always relate to these stories. The idea that our sanctuary gets invaded by something that we don't understand is what makes it terrifying.
So, as you move away from the horror genre, what kind of audience reactions are you hoping to get?
If I'm not scaring them? I hope that what I've learned in the last 10 years of making movies is ... I've wanted to make crazy, big-budget movies since my very first movie. But I've been so successful with the indie movies that I've been known for, so it's hard to break out of that. But I like to think that in that time period, I've matured as a filmmaker and I've come to realize what is important for me in a film. I think what I've learned is your story and your characters are the most important thing. If you have good characters, you can put them in any setting and you know what they would do, how they would react. You could put them into a horror film or a comedy or an action film, and they would swim in those worlds.
What can we expect from "Fast and Furious 7"?
I love the universe. I love the world that they created. I want to honor that world and be mindful of how much fans enjoy that world. I don't want to mess that up too much, but at the same time, I definitely would love to bring my own stamp to it. I think what I do best is, I love creating tension and suspense.
James Wan's "Insidious: Chapter 2" screams into theaters September 13.