‘Insidious: Chapter 2′ director James Wan on weird, surreal horror

May 29, 2013 | 7:07 p.m.
Director James Wan. (Film District)

Director James Wan. (Film District)

Australian director James Wan and actor-screenwriter Leigh Whannell have found plenty of good box-office fortune in the horror genre. Their debut feature, 2004′s “Saw,” launched a grisly movement, and their 2011 film “Insidious” turned out to be one of the surprise hits that year, grossing more than $97 million worldwide on a production budget of around $1 million.

“Insidious” offered restrained supernatural thrills with its tale of a young family whose son (Ty Simpkins) becomes pursued by a red-faced demon that inhabits a ghostly dimension called the Further. For the follow-up, due in theaters Sept. 13, Wan and Whannell reunited with “Insidious” cast members Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye with an eye toward playing up the domestic drama on screen.

It’s a busy time for Wan — “Insidious: Chapter 2″ actually will be the second film in 2013 from the director, who recently booked a new, high-profile gig directing the next movie in the successful “Fast & Furious” franchise. This summer, he’ll also release “The Conjuring,” a based-on-a-true-story tale about paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Vera Farmiga) set to open July 19.

Wan recently spoke with Hero Complex from the “Insidious” editing room about the films. Check out the first part of the interview here.

From left, Barbara Hershey, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins and Rose Byrne are back in "Insidious: Chapter 2." (Film District)

From left, Barbara Hershey, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins and Rose Byrne are back in “Insidious: Chapter 2.” (Film District)

HC: Will “Insidious: Chapter 2″ be thematically different from the first movie? Will it pick up where the first film ended?

JW: It’s a direct continuation from the end of the first film, so it’s the same characters, same actors coming back. But where the first movie plays like a classic haunted house film, the second one plays more like a domestic thriller with supernatural elements to it. You’re not quite sure if the lead character is who he seems to be. That kind of stuff. That’s what makes it a lot of fun. It smells like the first movie, but the story is different. In any first movie, you have the luxury of not knowing what’s going to happen. Nothing established, nothing set up. The first movie was original. The sequel has rules and things already established that we have to adhere to.

HC: “Insidious” had certain elements that seemed inspired by fairy tales — namely, the characters traveling into the Further and meeting the red-faced demon. How do you plan to explore those elements in the sequel?

JW: I’m definitely expanding on the mythology, but I’m also grounding it more. I think what I discovered from the first movie was that people loved the more grounded stuff. But people also loved the world we created, the Further, this ethereal, surreal world. It’s basically like limbo. We expanded on that, but I wanted it to feel more real. It’s much more stylized and heightened than something like “The Conjuring” is.

From left, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston star in James Wan's haunted house thriller, "The Conjuring." (Warner Bros.)

From left, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston star in James Wan’s haunted house thriller, “The Conjuring.” (Warner Bros.)

HC: So, by design, “Insidious” has a more stylized feel than “The Conjuring”?

JW: I love both forms. I love the realistic world and the more stylized world as well. I actually think the “Insidious” films walk the fine line between those two aesthetics. “Insidious” has a realistic quality, but it has this fantasy undertone to it as well. I think “Insidious” has the best of both worlds.

HC: So much has been written about how much money “Insidious” made relative to its budget. Were you given more money to make the sequel?

JW: It’s definitely more than the first one, but the first one cost the price of a Big Mac meal, so it doesn’t take much to be more than the first one. But yes, the second one has a little bit more, but it still feels very much like an indie movie. It’s made with an independent spirit. It has the fun challenges that come with making an indie movie. That kind of limitation helps the “Insidious” films. “Conjuring” was an outright studio film, so I had real time and real budget to make the film. It was a real luxury. I hadn’t done that in a while.

From left, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye and Angus Sampson return in "Insidious: Chapter 2." (Film District)

From left, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye and Angus Sampson return in “Insidious: Chapter 2.” (Film District)

HC: “Insidious” ended with a cliffhanger. Did you always plan for a sequel? Is there a trilogy here?

JW: Leigh Whannell and I never think about the sequels, but we do think about the idea of a bigger world. “Insidious” is a big world that could be taken in different directions. Even though we were never presumptuous enough to think that the  film would be successful enough to warrant a sequel, deep in the back of our heads we knew there was a bigger mythology we could explore. Because we ended the first one on a cliffhanger, it was easy to know where the sequel was headed. The fun part for us is trying to stay fresh and unique and different for ourselves. I like my horror films to be a bit surreal and weird.

– Patrick Kevin Day

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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