Mod­ern hor­ror mae­stro James Wan tells Don­ald Clarke how he went from Saw to spec­tres

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

YOU MEET hor­rid peo­ple in all fields of en­deav­our. Monk con­fer­ences and lol­lipop lady con­ven­tions are, surely, pop­u­lated by their fair share of bit­ter mal­con­tents and back­bit­ing un­der­achiev­ers. But, de­spite the grue­some na­ture of their en­thu­si­asms, hor­ror fans and prac­ti­tion­ers tend to be dis­pro­por­tion­ately nice. James Wan and Leigh Whan­nell are a case in point.

The two young Aus­tralians, cre­ators of the no­to­ri­ous Saw fran­chise, have ar­rived in Dublin to pro­mote a fine new haunted-house flick, In­sid­i­ous. As ex­pected, Wan, a 34-yearold of Chinese an­ces­try, fails to chain me to the ra­di­a­tor or bran­dish any form of rusty tor­ture im­ple­ment.

“Yeah, you do meet the nicest peo­ple at hor­ror con­ven­tions,” he en­thuses. “It’s the same with heavy-metal fans. They are the scari­est-look­ing peo­ple, but the nicest peo­ple. Some­body once said that hor­ror direc­tors are the hap­pi­est peo­ple be­cause they ex­or­cise their demons on-screen. Maybe there’s some­thing in that.”

The var­i­ous rab­ble-rous­ing idiots who de­clared Saw a men­ace to so­ci­ety would, one imag­ines, be some­what sur­prised to meet Wan. Spiky of hair, end­lessly cheery of dis­po­si­tion, he is no­body’s idea of a blood­thirsty ma­niac. But, since the first film’s de­but in 2004, the Saw fran­chise has stirred a fair de­gree of ill-in­formed out­rage. This was the film that launched the sub­genre known – of­ten to those who hadn’t seen any films meet­ing the sup­posed crit­era – as “tor­ture porn”. Once again, as with The Ex­or­cist, video nas­ties and Ital­ian can­ni­bal shock­ers, hor­ror film-mak­ers were re­spon­si­ble for lead­ing so­ci­ety to­wards bar­barism.

“I would feel bet­ter about the phrase ‘tor­ture porn’ if it wasn’t al­ways used in a deroga­tory way,” Wan says. “But that’s not the case. It’s not a term I care very much for. If you watch the first Saw film – the only one I di­rected – you’ll see the tor­ture stuff is ac­tu­ally very muted. The first film played far more like a thriller.”

You could see In­sid­i­ous (sig­nif­i­cant ti­tle, in­ci­den­tally) as a cre­ative re­sponse to those crit­ics. Though no­body is likely to con­fuse the pic­ture with Win­nie the Pooh, it of­fers a much slower burn than the Saw pic­tures.

More of a ghost story than a straight-up hor­ror, the film finds Pa­trick Wil­son and Rose Byrne play­ing a mid­dle-class cou­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing weird hap­pen­ings in their new house. Spec­tres flit past the win­dow. Strange noises em­anate from ap­par­ently un­oc­cu­pied spaces. Even­tu­ally their young son falls into a baf­fling coma. Greater mad­ness fol­lows.

In ear­lier in­ter­views, Wan, born in Malaysia but raised in Perth, has ex­plained that he first con­nected with hor­ror when he caught a glimpse of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. In­deed In­sid­i­ous, which was writ­ten by Leigh Whan­nell, his loyal cre­ative part­ner, looks and feels a lit­tle like a tribute to that pop­u­lar ghost flick.

“No. It’s not that. Leigh was not as af­fected by Poltergeist as I was. So it’s just worked out that way. Our big­gest in­flu­ences on In­sid­i­ous were ghost sto­ries we’d heard from our friends – sto­ries passed down through the years. We thought that, if we got chills just lis­ten­ing to them, imag­ine if we put them on screen. Let’s scare other peo­ple.”

As wildly en­thu­si­as­tic as any fan­boy, Wan goes on to ex­plain that he and Whan­nell


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