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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Saw creators shed their gory reputations for old-school suspense with Insidious

220px-Insidious_poster.jpg
  • Alliance Films
Best known for their work on the original Saw film, writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan have become known (perhaps unrightfully so) as the purveyors of the torture porn fad in horror films. Their latest film Insidious, however, is an ode to the more suspenseful thrillers of the ‘60s and ‘70s, as a family struggles with a seemingly haunted house, a child in a coma and various other creepy creatures . Insidious is a well-crafted horror film with moments of comic relief (if you’re paying attention, you might catch a wink-nudge sort-of cameo by Saw’s Jigsaw) to offset the family’s despair. And, in true thriller fashion, you don’t even see the source of all these fears until the very end of the movie. With the film coming out this Friday, Whannell (who also makes a cameo as a Clark Kent-like ghost hunter) and Wan took a moment to discuss the fright fest. (Some spoilers follow after the jump.)

Many people say you guys started the recent trend known as torture porn in the horror genre, but Insidious has a much more classic horror feel. Was that a conscious choice on your part?
Wan: Yes, it was intentional, but it’s also what we love.

Whannell: We sort of gravitated towards it naturally because that’s what we love, then as a bonus it happens to be something that will hopefully show people we can do different things. But having said that, it’s an interesting thing for us and Saw because we’re sort of remembered as the kings of gore or whatever because we created Saw and Saw was the first film in this new subgenre of extreme horror films that led to things like Hostel and The Devil’s Rejects and stuff. But it’s interesting for us because James only directed the first film and if you go back and watch the first Saw film, it’s not very gory. The gore is very held back, it’s much more of a low-key psychological thriller. I actually love some of the scare sequences. The sequels, then, became progressively more gory, but we didn’t have much to do with those.

Wan: It’s kind of annoying to me because I feel like a lot of effort was put into the scare scenes in the first Saw film, but no one ever talks about the scare scenes. Like when the young character played by Leigh is walking through his apartment and he didn’t have his flashlight so all he has is his camera flash and he’s flashing through the room as his light source; that, to me, was a really tense moment that no one talks about. All people want to talk about is how bloody is this trap and that.

Whannell: I think what happened is the seven movies meld into one. When I was in school I was such a big Jaws fan and other kids at school would come up to me and go, “I love Jaws. I love the scene where the shark eats the water skier.” And I’d be like, “That’s Jaws 2!” It’s Jaws syndrome where all the sequels kind of merge into one movie for a lot of people, and I think that’s what’s happened with the Saw films for sure. It’s so interconnected it’s just become this one big gelatinous movie. I can definitely understand where people are coming from, but we don’t consider ourselves gore merchants. So I think this is a good opportunity to make a film that’s not that.

Insidious creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan
  • FilmDistrict
  • Insidious creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan

I’ll admit it’s been a while since I saw the first Saw movie. But I do remember liking it more for what was implied rather than seen.
Wan: We don’t blame people for feeling that way because when they release one every year it just melts into one big piece. I do think that Insidious, for me as a director, is my way of trying to clarify that and sort of remind people of the original Saw.

Insidious is even rated PG-13, isn’t it?
Wan: Yeah. I was actually very conscious of that when I was directing it. I was like, “Not a single drop of blood or guts and gore in this film. No swearing. Nothing like that.”

Everything about Insidious has a classic horror feel, from the beginning title sequence with the frantic violin music through the end of the film.
Wan: It’s definitely a throwback to the old fashioned haunted house films that we love.

It seems to borrow from a lot of different eras. I would compare it to Rosemary’s Baby, Poltergeist, The Exorcist
Wan: I would actually go even further back to the black and white films like The Haunting, The Innocents — that’s where I drew a lot of inspiration. But the biggest inspiration that Leigh and I drew from in inspiring us to write this film were actual ghost stories we have heard from family and friends. So when people refer to the homages we have paid, I think it’s more from a stylistic standpoint. But from a story standpoint, it’s definitely from a lot of the ghost stories we grew up hearing about and loving and deciding, “Hey, we should put this in the movie.”

But you also included some more contemporary references, such as the ghost hunters and all their gadgets, which seemed like a spoof on the "Ghost Hunters" TV show. And even though those characters in the movie provide a bit of comic relief, their role also seemed to add to the hopelessness of whole situation.
Wan: We knew that people wouldn’t suddenly go from “ahhh” to cracking up, but we wanted it to still be in the same universe. We didn’t want it to feel like two separate films, even though it slightly feels that way. It was very important to try and reel the audience back in and have it seem like it’s one movie.

What was the inspiration for the look of the main creature and the story behind him?
Wan: I wanted to create a demon creature that paints his face with lipstick, kind of like a clown would. It’s kind of his way of saying, “Look at me, I’m bright and happy! Come play with me.” Kind of like what someone like [John Wayne] Gacy does when he dresses up as a clown to entertain kids. That’s what this demon creature is in a very twisted way. That’s why the demon character at the end of the movie is credited as “lipstick-faced demon.”

And he was described several different ways by people throughout the movie, so there’s a lot of buildup and anticipation as to what this thing looks like. Again, that was reminiscent of older horror films like Alien and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre where you don’t see the thing until the end, if at all.
Wan: And when you do see it, it’s a really quick glimpse because that’s the best way to show it.

And in this case, he’s sharpening his claws and listening to Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” which is kind of creepy in itself.
Wan: Yeah! It definitely has a creepy vibe to it.

Insidious. Rated PG-13. Directed by James Wan. Written by Leigh Whannell. Stars Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne. Opens Fri. April 1 in area theaters.

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