Shock Interview: James Wan & Leigh Whannell on Insidious Chapter 2


Shortly after the smash success of Insidious in 2010, there were lots of sequel rumblings.  Would director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell try to repeat that success?  Was there even more story to tell?  When we spoke to Jason Blum the year of that film’s release, he told a sequel would be contingent on simply Wan and Whannell.  

Then came word that Wan was off to direct The Conjuring (this summer’s horror hit), would he feel up for directing another supernatural thriller?  The answer was “yes” and Insidious Chapter 2 was born, a sequel Wan would return to direct for Blumhouse Productions with another script by Whannell.  The original cast agreed to return for a story that picks up immediately where the first film left off and follows the haunted Lambert family as they seek to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.

Insidious Chapter 2 would mark yet another collaboration between Wan and Whannell who, after SAW, would also work together on Dead Silence.  

Due to Wan’s increasingly busy schedule on Fast & Furious 7, FilmDistrict had to line up press interviews for Insidious Chapter 2 before Comic-Con.  After the jump, find our discussion with Wan, as well as Whannell.  They discuss their approach to the sequel, how they try to make their mark on the genre and how this sequel marks the end of an era.  What’s up, busy guy?

James Wan:  I’m so knackered right now.  I’ve never had to be knee-deep into directing movie, while finishing another movie while promote another movie.

Shock:  This movie is nuts.  There’s so much happening in it…

Wan:  [laughs]  

Shock:  Did Leigh just run off to write this on his own and come back to you and go, “I went nuts!”

Wan:  [laughs]  I felt, in some ways, we touch on the mythology in the first one.  The second one allowed us to play with it.  If you want the low key, nothing-much-happens version of this, that’s The Conjuring.  I keep saying, the reaction I got from Insidious is, the first two-thirds is good, it’s effective, but the last part it’s a wacky out-of-this-world thing.  But the first two-thirds was just all of the standard shit we’ve seen many times before: The creaking doors, the whispering voices, right?  So, I said, people like that!  And I applied that to The Conjuring and everyone said they thought it was creepy and effective, but there’s nothing original about it.  So, I was like, but I gave you the original stuff and you didn’t like that in Insidious.  I can’t win!  [laughs]  Insidious Chapter 2 is definitely wacky.

Leigh Whannell: We just went for it because the first film is introducing people to this new world.  And the interesting thing about being a horror fan and filmmaker is I’m always starved for originality and waiting for that next film that’ll do something different.  With the sequel, everyone knows what they’re in for, so let’s just go for it…

Shock:  You jump right in, there’s no time wasted at all.

Wan:  Everyone knows something is going to happen.  And if your characters don’t acknowledge that something bad is happening when it is happening, they just look stupid.  We tie directly to the ending of the first film.  Emotions are still very fresh and very high.  The characters are still high strung so to speak.

Shock:  What was the appeal to doing a sequel to Insidious rather than something like SAW?

Whannell:  That’s interesting.  With SAW, I stuck around to write those first two sequels, but James didn’t and I always felt like I was hanging around a party after the party was over.  Just not having James there meant it wasn’t complete for me.  It was cool picking up the new team.  For me, I didn’t need much convincing, but with James I think what brought him back to the Insidious sequel was how much fun we had on the first film.  SAW was a great experience but not a fun movie to make, it was a bit hellish.  But Insidious was a lot of fun.

Shock:  Patrick gets a chance to have a lot of fun…

Wan:  Having worked with me on a few films now, I think he’s comfortable with me pushing him as far as I could.  He knows he has to eat it up.  What Patrick is good with is that he can ham it up but it won’t be cheesy.  He still does it with intelligence and a sense of subtlety.  There’s a scene when Rose starts to catch up to something and you see Patrick’s face start to change, it’s so fucking good.  It just shows what a great actor he is.

Shock:  Would you say you and Leigh definitively have an identifiable stamp on horror when you collaborate?

Wan:  Oh yeah, when Leigh and I make something.  He’ll be the first to admit it and it’s very polarizing.  People will either see it and go, “What the fuck are they doing?” or they love it.  And a lot of that comes from me and Leigh’s desire to do something out of the box and different and original.  So, that’s what happens.  I guess Insidious 2 is a reflection of that.  If you look at the movies I do without him, they’re very straight-forward.  The Conjuring is very straight-forward.  Death Sentence is very straight-forward.  But I’m always trying to find something that I can shoot different and have be unique that people will get excited about.

Whannell:  It’s an interesting thing.  I feel like filmmakers with a voice are disappearing.  They all of that shot of buildings falling down or that Inception horn blaring over scenes.  Like, look at Tim Burton’s early stuff.  When it came on, you knew exactly it was a Tim Burton film.  I feel like filmmakers with a voice are getting squashed by the homogenization of corporate filmmaking.  I love that James does what he does.  It’s also, and I’ve been thinking about this and it’s interesting to talk to you about it since you’ve been there from the start, I feel like it’s almost the end of an era, almost ten years to the day we came over to make Saw.  Exactly 10 years after we came over, James was asked to go into Fast & Furious land.  So, what’s weird is, it’s the end of an era.  We’ll work together again, I’m sure, but he’s definitely stepping off into this studio world and I have to re-discover who I am without James.

Shock:  Well, do you want to direct yourself, Leigh?

Whannell:  Yeah, it’s funny.  Just in the last three months or so is when I’ve gone from yeah, maybe to “I’m doing it.”  I’m not as confident as James was.  Ever since I’ve known him in film school, he was always just so confident.  It’s interesting.  It’s been a great decade with good times from weird stories to trashing Toronto hotel rooms [laughs] to calling Steven Seagal’s publicist at Comic-Con at 3am.  It’s a nostalgic time for me, an era is coming to an end.  But probably the first film I direct will be horror because it’s such a fun world to be in and I feel safe with websites like yours and the horror community is so strong.

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