Roundtable Interview With James Wan and Leigh Whannell On Insidious

Insidious is the newest offering from director/writer team James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, the film does away with blood and gore and uses suspense and atmosphere to craft a very spooky horror movie. Coming from the guys who brought us the original Saw, hopes were high for Insidious and as you can see from our review, the film didn’t disappoint.

James Wan and Leigh Whannell sat down with me to discuss Insidious this week at the SXSW film fest. Between the fun banter, I did manage to glean some interesting tidbits about the project and their film sensibilities. Check it out below. Audio version included at the end of the page.

Apparently the writer/director team behind the original Saw had the concept for Insidious before they ever made Saw. They had three great ideas a few years ago, according to director James Wan, that have all since been made. “We actually cooked up the two ideas–I love talking about this, I might as well talk about this as well–between Leigh and I we came up with these three concepts for low budget films that we really wanted to make with our own money, in our own backyard, in our own garage, with our own friends…one was the story that eventually became Insidious, one was about two guys stuck in a toilet…that became Saw, and the third concept we had was about a guy that wakes up with scratches all over his body and he starts to believe that he’s been haunted in his sleep so he starts setting up video cameras all over his room to video tape him at night.”

Scribe Leigh Whannell added, “So all three of those ideas ended up getting made by different people. Saw got made by us, the other one got made by the Paranormal guys, and one got made by both of us together (Paranormal Activity writer/producer Oren Peli produced Insidious). Very strange, but that was about it, the whole genesis of it.”

Whannell said the concept behind the central story of Insidious, the heart of it (the boy’s ability in the film), was something that he and James always talked about that would make a great film. “You know it was one of those ideas that you have not very often in life that you actually start worrying that someone else is going to come up with it. You know you’ve have a good idea when you’re lying awake at night going ‘someone else is going to take it, I just know it! It’s too good.”

When asked about the horror film genre (and this creative duo has now established its horror film merits), Wan said he and Whannell have always loved all kinds of films. “We love old movies, but we are big fans of the scary film genre because we think that it’s the one genre that, if you do it right, it doesn’t require a lot of money. And if you do it right, without a lot of money, it can really break out there. As it was proven to us with the first Saw and the Saw franchise.” And it’s true, considering the quality movie they made with the budget (about a million dollars) and with only a 22-day filming schedule.

Insidious works so well as a traditional scary film, where the eerie atmosphere and effective creepiness work without gore or shock-value shots. Wan agreed, “it wasn’t blood and guts. Leigh and I wanted to make a creepy, old-fashioned horror movie that doesn’t rely on literal, visceral intestines being pulled out of people, and uh that’s really a challenge. It’s a challenge to write and it’s a challenge to direct, because you’re not throwing stuff at the audience. You’re telling them, ‘oh I‘m going to try and scare you now, but I‘m going to try and scare you with a wide shot of a room.’ And that’s all it takes, and the soundtrack builds, and that’s all it is, and that’s really hard to pull off.” Whannell chimed in with “we basically made the type of horror film that we would want to go and see…When you come across a horror film that’s not only scary, but that’s actually a good film, a film that holds up and has a great story, it’s just so exciting.”

The music worked as an important element of the film, a character in itself. It reminded me of the clashing sounds and eerie high-pitched music from The Shining. Leigh agreed wholeheartedly at The Shining reference, saying “well the music is something that was inspired by the works of more avant-garde composers, not traditional horror film composers…” And Wan added, “and that avant-garde music was something Kubrick used in The Shining and Friedkin used in The Exorcist! And that avant-garde style of scoring really makes the film very unsettling and really adds to the movie.”

As for future projects? Maybe a sci fi film on the horizon for this creative team. Whannell said “between us we have like a sci fi project we’ve been talking about, and then we also have over the last couple years a few different projects that we’ve been working on separately. It’s weird because I’m sitting here talking about a horror film and I feel so in this horror world but over the last two years I’ve written a comedy, a drama and a kid’s film. So I really feel like I‘ve tried my hand at a bunch of different stuff.”

That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank James and Leigh for taking the time to talk to us. Remember to check out Insidious when it hits theatres on April 1st and be sure to check out our Insidious review.

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