James Wan Prepares Audiences for ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’

James Wan Insidious 2 trailer day

WRITER’S NOTE: This aritcle was originally written and published back in 2013.

The first trailer for “Insidious: Chapter 2” debuted online on June 5, 2013, but some very lucky die-hard horror fans got to see it the day before at one of the film’s shooting locations in Los Angeles: Linda Vista Community Hospital. In addition, the fans also got to take a tour around the creepy hospital, eat fine catered Mexican food and enjoyed cocktails, and they were treated to a Q&A with the movie’s director, James Wan. The cast of “Insidious,” Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey and Ty Simpkins are back for the sequel as well as Wan’s frequent collaborator, screenwriter Leigh Whannell.

Insidious Chapter 2 poster 2

Before anyone got to see the trailer, the fans were taken on a tour through Linda Vista which was closed down 20 years ago. For them, it truly looked like something out of a Stephen King novel as the walls were drained of color and marked with graffiti which said “Hail Satan.” Tiles were falling off the ceiling, trash covered the floors of various rooms, and cobwebs were visible on various objects like a staircase or an old wooden chair. There was even a room filled with medical files and the tour guides invited the fans to look through some of them to see why patients were unluckily committed to this haunted establishment.

Linda Vista Community Hospital

Once in a while people could hear noises coming from the darkest corners of the hospital. Were these noises the result of some evil spirit lurking around, the catering people bringing food into the building for guests, or was the film company that’s releasing “Insidious: Chapter 2” trying to play a cruel trick on the fans? No one was ever really sure.

Linda Vista 1

After taking in some fine Mexican cuisine and Spanish beer, the fans were ushered into the hospital’s chapel where the trailer made its world debut. It showed Josh (Patrick Wilson), his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) moving in with Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) after the horrific events of the first film. But of course, bad things start happening very quickly as a baby carrier moves around the house by itself, and Renai is greeted by a creepy woman who goes into the next room only to vanish a second later.

Now whereas Dalton was possessed in the first film, it turns out that Josh is the unlucky one in this sequel as a poltergeist invades his body and won’t leave him alone. The trailer also included a piece of Thomas Bangalter’s music score from “Irreversible” which succeeded in unsettling the audience even further as Josh is met by a scary looking spirit who tells him “he’s got your baby.”

James Wan Insidious trailer day 2

Once the trailer ended, Wan entered the chapel and was greeted with a loud and enthusiastic applause from the fans. He made it clear from the start that he and Whannell were not out to make a photocopy of “Insidious” but to instead continue the story exactly from where the first movie ended. Wan also said that with “Insidious: Chapter 2,” he wanted to take the story into a different genre.

James Wan: Whereas the first movie has a twist on the classic haunted house genre, the second one is a slightly different movie so it has a twist on different subgenre. It’s more in the vein of the classic domestic thriller but with a pervasive supernatural undertone. We wanted to take a movie about astral projection, astral traveling, and we felt that was a great premise to use in a scary movie. When Leigh and I started talking about making a haunted house movie we thought the whole astral projection angle could be something that’s unique and different to the haunted house movies. We combined those two together and we got “Insidious.”

Wan also delighted the audience when he told him that the sequel will deal “a little bit with the element of time travel.”

When it comes to special effects, Wan said that he prefers to use practical ones and did so with “Insidious: Chapter 2.” It’s not that he has anything against computer generated effects; it’s just that he finds practical effects are much scarier.

James Wan: For me it’s not necessarily seeing the scariest monster that makes it scary. It’s a character waking up in the middle of the night and he or she thinks that someone’s standing at the foot of their bed. That’s what makes things scary for me. So, for ‘Insidious’ it was putting those scares that I have personally in a movie.

Along with his longtime collaborator Whannell, Wan has made several horror movies including the original “Saw,” “Dead Silence” and “The Conjuring.” One fan asked Wan where he gets all his ideas for movies, and he responded by saying he finds inspiration by scaring himself late at night. While it might seem like very few things could ever scare Wan, he unabashedly described himself as a “chickenshit” and said everything scares him.

James Wan: When I was designing some of the scares for “Insidious” and my previous scary movie that I shot, one of the things that I would do, I would walk through my house with all the lights out and think up these really these really tricky, creepy scenarios. If I get really creeped out then I know it’s working and I’d run back to my computer and write it.

Wan also recollected how one time while writing a scene for a movie, his dog started barking at something. He described how his dog would stand in a corner of a room at 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning and just start barking, and then once the dog stopped, she would track whatever it was she was barking at around the room. While Wan freely admitted he loves his dog, he also said “she scares the heck out of me sometimes.”

Even after making several horror movies, Wan said that it is still a challenge to scare audiences as they always try to stay one step ahead of the filmmakers. With “Insidious: Chapter 2,” his goal was to ground the sequel more in the real world as he felt the story would be more effectively scary. When asked if the sequel will answer any questions the original did not answer or if it will bring up new ones, Wan replied that this one will “answer questions, but hopefully not in the way you expect.”

“Insidious: Chapter 2” will be unleashed in theatres on September 13, 2013 (yes, Friday the 13th). Up next for Wan is “Furious 7” in which he will be taking over the directorial duties from Justin Lin. But when asked what his dream project as a director is, Wan gave the audience an answer many did not expect.

James Wan: I’m a big comic book fan, I’d like to do a comic book film. I’m a romantic at heart, so a pet project of mine that I’ve always wanted to do is a big screen version of “Beauty and the Beast.” That way I can play with the scary creatures, the horror of that and it has this great story.

‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ is More of a Continuation Than a Sequel

Insidious Chapter 2 poster

My feelings towards “Insidious: Chapter 2” are not much different from how I felt about “Insidious.” Neither movie scared me in the way they scared my friends, and they don’t really hold a candle to the “Paranormal Activity” movies in terms of making you jump out of your seat, but I did admire their cleverness as they turned the genres they were exploring upside down, and both films gave me something I wasn’t expecting. But moreover, the real strength of “Insidious: Chapter 2” is it doesn’t feel like a sequel as much as it feels like a continuation of what came before it. Part of me was expecting a simple retread of the original, but the filmmakers succeed in adding more to what came before.

It reunites the horror team of director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, both who made the first “Insidious” movie as well as the first “Saw.” What drove me nuts about “Saw” and its sequels wasn’t the gore (the way I see it, the gore the merrier), but the plot twists which ended those movies left me with the most enormous of headaches as they expected me to believe Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) could pull this or that off, and I didn’t buy any of the conclusions for a second. The “Insidious” movies, however, don’t make the same mistake, and what I admired was how certain questions from the original film got answered here. Perhaps a close analysis would reveal plot holes, but both movies seem to connect together in a way which makes sense.

Like “Halloween II” (whether it’s the original sequel or Rob Zombie’s), “Insidious: Chapter 2” starts off where the original ended. Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) has successfully rescued his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) from the Further, but after a peaceful moment where the family is reunited, his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) discovers paranormal investigator Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye) has been strangled to death. Josh is suspected to have strangled her, but he convinces Renai he did not. Soon after that, things slowly get back to normal as Josh moves his family into his mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) house, but it doesn’t take long for certain objects to move around on their own. The question is, did Josh really return from the Further, or did someone else come back in his place?

Now Wan and Whannell had a lot of fun playing around with the haunted house genre with the first “Insidious,” but now they are forced to up their game with this one. “Insidious: Chapter 2” is more of a domestic thriller with a bit of astral projection and time travel thrown in to mix things up. While it does deal with the same elements which made its predecessor a success, this sequel never feels like a simple repeat of the original. Both these films were made by people who have seen just about every horror movie known to man, and they have gone out of their way to subvert all those clichés we are used to seeing. With this movie, I was never entirely sure of what to expect, and that’s just the way I want it.

Wilson, Byrne, Hershey and Simpkins are every bit as good as they were in “Insidious,” and they don’t look like they have missed a bit between the original and the sequel. Angus Simpson and Whannell also show up again as Tucker and Specs, and they provide the comic relief this sequel needs, and they never overstay their welcome.

Joining the “Insidious” franchise this time around is Steve Coulter who plays Carl, Elise’s protégé in the paranormal arts. I am not familiar with Coulter’s work, but he gives a strong performance here as he works to help the Lambert family deal with what has been haunting them so viciously. It turns out he is a journeyman actor who has made many appearances in both film and television, and his veteran status serves this part well as Carl is an expert who has dealt with these situations extensively, and this makes him very believable as someone who has seen the worst things life has to offer.

Some fans may complain about the lack of scares in “Insidious: Chapter 2,” but for me, I’m just glad this sequel kept me intrigued throughout. Whether you find it terrifying or not, it’s a film which does keep you on edge from start to finish. When the movie ends, it turns out that there just might be room for another “Insidious” sequel, and there is a sequence at the end which implies a follow up will be coming our way. But even if it doesn’t, you can be sure the spirits (evil or otherwise) will be haunting you while you sleep.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’ Screenwriter Leigh Whannell on Dealing with Anxiety

Leigh Whannell

Sure, everybody deals with anxiety, but for others it can be a very serious disorder. Anxiety is not the same thing as fear because fear is more of a feeling about something which is realistically dangerous, and it is an appropriate response to a perceived threat. But anxiety is more about anticipating disaster and excessively worrying about everyday things like health, money, relationships with friends and family or troubles at your job. The problem is many of these worries are irrational, and much of what you fear never becomes a reality. Still, it’s not something you can just flip off like a light switch as those who are saddled with this disorder end up suffering from many physical symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, fidgeting, difficulty concentrating, trouble breathing and nausea among other things. They find themselves unable to control their anxiety, and it can seriously affect how they deal with daily life.

I bring this up because I suffer from anxiety, but I typically don’t talk about it much outside of a doctor’s office. There is a stigma attached to mental disorders in general, and many who suffer from them don’t want to admit they have a problem. Explaining this to others is frustrating because not many have a full understanding of what you’re going through, and the advice you are likely to get is “get over it.”

Insidious Chapter 2 poster

So, I had the opportunity to speak with Leigh Whannell, an actor and writer who wrote the screenplays for “Saw,” “Dead Silence” and “Insidious,” all of which were directed by James Wan. Whannell was in Los Angeles for the “Insidious: Chapter 2” press junket, and I was lucky enough to have a 1-on-1 interview with him at the Four Seasons Hotel thanks to the website We Got This Covered. Whannell himself suffers from anxiety as well, and I asked him how he dealt with it and if it influenced his writing in any way. Part of me was worried this might seem like too personal a question, but he was actually very open to talking about it.

Leigh Whannell: When I was in my mid-20’s, I was having these physical symptoms. To me I didn’t think it was anxiety, I thought it was a health problem. I was getting these headaches and heart palpitations, and at that age I was too young to understand psychological problems. Especially in Australia, we don’t really have a big therapy culture in the sense that I don’t know if people really address their problems as much as they do here. So, I was very confused, and when a doctor told me that all these things that are happening are because of anxiety, that was hard. I think the way I dealt with it in the end was to chisel away at the elements of my life that were adding to the stress. I was working in a job I didn’t like very much, and I got out of the job. It was hard because no one wants to be unsure where their next paycheck is coming from, but I knew that if I got out of that job that would help so I did that. In terms of influence, it was very influential in the writing of ‘Saw.’ I look at ‘Saw’ now and I realize that it’s not exactly a critically acclaimed film, but a lot of people would maybe see it as a B-movie. But for me, at the time, I didn’t see it that way. It was so meaningful to me because, even though it’s this thriller, I was looking at this character that was dying, and all these anxieties about death really were an influence. I think it can end up being good therapy in a lot of ways. When you get out your subconscious on paper, it’s like a mental sauna. You sweat out all the dark stuff and I think that ‘Saw’ is very much a product of who I was in my early to mid-20s. I think I had a pretty dark nihilistic worldview, hence the movie ‘Saw’ (laughs).

I told Whannell it was great he was able to channel his anxiety into his work as it proved to be beneficial for his health and career overall. As I walked out of the hotel room, he wished me the best of luck in dealing with it as he deeply understood what anxiety was all about, and he also gave me some good advice to follow:

Leigh Whannell: I think it’s similar to a physical health problem in that you need to take steps like meditation or long walks or days where you don’t have to focus on it. You need to carve out time for yourself.

Since the interview, I have started taking a mindfulness class which is a form of meditation that focuses your mind to be more attentive and aware of what your body is going through. Essentially, it gives your brain a much-needed rest and to not judge the thoughts which keep running through your head on a regular basis. I have also sought treatment through therapy and other methods, and all of it has been largely beneficial. I still have a way to go in dealing with my anxiety, but I can honestly say I have made a lot of progress.

I really want to thank Leigh Whannell for his time and for being so open about what he went through while dealing with overwhelming anxiety. Honestly, it looks like he’s feeling great and doing much better than when he was younger. Hearing him talk about this issue and seeing him looking very healthy certainly gives me a lot of hope.