SXSW 2011: James Wan Talks 'Insidious'


James Wan and Leigh Whannell know a little something about horror; the two are responsible for (among other things) the long-running SAW franchise. Fans first, filmmakers second, I had the chance to sit down with Insidious director James Wan after the SXSW premiere of his latest film to not only chat about making movies, but also watching them. We talked about working with longtime partner Leigh Whannell, scaring the crap out of kids, and what it's like for a horror fan to make movies that not only scare an audience but also himself. Check out the full interview below. 

FEARnet: Insidious has been getting good positive word of mouth that has to please you.

James Wan: It's so hard to make a film that pleases everyone, and especially the more mainstream internet critics. Strangely, they're hard to please. But I don't really care about that. I'm a horror fan; I love scary movies and if people like you and me get it, that's all I really care about.

You've said in the past that you and Leigh Whannell work so well together, you have shorthand and really seem to get one another. What 3 words would you use to describe Leigh?

Talented, original, symbiotic.

He and I have a very symbiotic relationship, the way we think. Just in terms with him, I'm not saying I'm talented (laughs) but he really pushes for thing to be, like we could be doing a classical haunted house film but he would really push it and say 'We have to do something different, we've seen a séance sequence thousands of times before, we need to make it different'. When he pushes me to do that, it's great because he brings out the best in me and I try to do the same for him as well.

One of the things I really dug about the film is the rollercoaster aspect. You hit us with some spooky ghost shit, bring in some comic relief in the second act and then smack us over the head with unrelenting horror in the final reel.

That's the kind of stuff we love. And Leigh and I find it that people either love it or they hate it. Leigh and I find the films that we make are very polarizing. I find that you need to do that; you need to look outside of the box. You need to try and do something different in a genre that's been done to death (no pun intended). We wanted you to go into this film thinking you had a preconceived notion that you knew what this film was about. But then it takes these turns and becomes something else. In the end we want it to be entertaining and fun and we really wanna make the kind of films we wanna see as fans. Ultimately you have to make a film that you really want to see.

I also love the fact that you're bringing back PG-Rated horror that's family friendly AND scary. Much like the creepy Disney films I grew up watching in the 80's.

Yeah exactly.

They were PG Rated horror films designed to scare the crap out of kids! Return to Oz, Watcher in the Woods, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Black Hole...

Yeah, Black Hole, definitely. It was a time, like Tron was really disturbing; it was a time when they were making these really dark films.

It seems like Insidious takes us back to that time.

Yes, and at the same time you're not beaten over the head by things that are repulsive.

Oh yeah, there's just enough in there to give kids nightmares that would slightly amuse their parents.

(laughs) What kind of parents are you talking about?

Parents like me!


Because I grew up chasing after that scare as a kid.

I'm the same as well. I agree. I took a look at it through a childhood perspective, looking at the films I loved growing up. Like I loved Poltergeist and The Innocence and The Haunting and I wanted to capture that again. It's ironic because today's generation of kids really grew up with the Saw films and the Saw imitators. In some ways I kinda wanna show them the films I grew up with.

I think people have forgotten what it's like to be scared by a good PG-Rated horror film and once they experience it, they get it. They just need to be reminded.

Yes! That's exactly what I say. Leigh and I always say there's a big difference between being scared and being grossed out. Two different genres. The rating doesn't make it any less or better of a movie. And a hardcore R-Rating doesn't make it a better or scarier movie. Some of the scariest movies are PG-13 like The Ring, The Grudge, and The Sixth Sense. Great suspenseful movies and they do it by mood and atmosphere. For me the most important thing as a horror fan? I want a scary movie.