A dizzying intersection of three films trails director James Wan as he meets us at the Los Angeles press junket for “Insidious: Chapter 2,” the sequel to his and writer/actor Leigh Whannell’s 2011 hit. Just two weeks prior, he was here promoting “The Conjuring,” and now, he’s battling jet-lag from his time away prepping “Fast and Furious 7” in Atlanta. “I am knee deep in it,” he says of the latest in Universal’s key franchise. “I’m working on it non-stop, not getting any sleep, and yet I’m still wrapping up these [two films] too. My head is exploding.”
Stress aside, the Australian filmmaker is quick to appreciate the plethora of opportunities paid his way, especially when it comes to the latest “Fast and Furious” installment. He’s previously described his approach on the film as a “gritty, ’70s revenge thriller,” but he’s very conscious of the series’ trajectory and dedicated following.
“It’s gone from like a remake of ‘Point Break’ into now an outright fun big studio flick, but one that is that crazy enough to get bigger and bigger,” he says. “Because people, and myself, enjoy the characters, and who Vin, Michelle, Paul, and all these guys are. Audiences like what they do, and the fact that it has such a crazy big fanbase is pretty impressive.”
We’ll see how that core following reacts next summer when the film is released, but this year still holds more of Wan’s proven skill: scaring the crap out of audiences. After his work on “Saw” led to a series of increasingly gory, convoluted sequels, Wan hit upon box-office gold again with “Insidious,” which made $97 million on a $1.5 million budget. Naturally, pressure to create a follow-up was there, but Wan was understandably hesitant. “We actually did not roll right into it, unlike the ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Saw’ franchises, where they made one every year. Credit to [producer] Jason Blum—he didn’t want to do that, unless Leigh and myself were comfortable.”
In terms of finding the hook, it all came back to potential unexplored in the original. “What made me want to return was the idea that we could do things that were a bit surreal and quirky that we set up in the first movie, and really expand the mythology a bit more. One of those things was to have the narrative of ‘Chapter 2’ visit the events of ‘Chapter 1.’ That was what made it fun, and that was the initial idea that got me very excited.”
He continues, “But there was also a sense of urgency, because we wanted to pick up at the very end of the first movie, right? Which means we can’t let it drag out for too long because people change, and on top of that, the kids are going to grow up a lot. And trust me, the kids did grow up in the 2-3 year period between films; they grew up quite dramatically, so I had to be careful about how to shoot them. I had to do most of my shots where the child actors would have to sit down, or if he was walking I would frame them alone.”
Even with the success of the original, Wan says the filming of ‘Chapter 2’ still kept to its low-budget roots, in the spirit of a limited-budget, maximum-resources business model devised by Blum and his team. “It’s funny because from a production standpoint it was a harder movie to make than the first one,” he says. “That’s how these films are made, and I think you want to keep it in that model; however, it was very hard shooting ‘Insidious 2’, because even though it doesn’t seem bigger, it was a much more ambitious film.”
Wan shuddered at the thought of making yet another haunted house film, preferring this time to create a “domestic thriller with a supernatural twist.” That description is built into actress Rose Byrne’s relationship with Patrick Wilson, as her character deals with the immediate effects of her husband’s dangerous visit to the spirit world in the first film. For Wan, it was also imperative that the duo, along with the entire core cast, return for the sequel. “Casting, and the issue of recasting the roles, was definitely a very big concern of mine,” says Wan. “Because of everyone’s schedule—Rose, Patrick, Barbara [Hershey], Lynn’s—it was tricky trying to get the cast back; but when Leigh and I settled on the story that was going to be a direct continuation, that was the only movie that we were willing to do.”
With a future to potentially follow Justin Lin into a extended “Fast and Furious” stay, Wan’s slate is obviously quite full at the moment. But with his partner Whannell mounting an Australia-set indie feature, “The Mule,” what are the chances of a genre collaboration back in the duo’s homeland? “I would love to do a comedy back in Australia. That’s the thing—Leigh is such a funny guy, and we have such a fun mentality, so I would love for us to do our version of ‘Swingers‘ or something.”
If the stars aligned just a bit sooner for the duo, that Australian feature might have already existed. “It’s funny, because ‘Saw’ was a movie that was designed to be an Australian film. It was supposed to be set there in all the back alleys of Melbourne, the underground culture of that city, and we spent one or two years trying to get it off the ground, and couldn’t. Then we eventually came out to the U.S. and it became an American film.” And not just an American film, but a worldwide hit, just as the ‘Insidious’ films have become.
“Insidious: Chapter 2” is now in theaters nationwide.