Some of the most iconic horror movies today stem from one man and one man alone. And no, this one man does not happen to be Stephen King, surprisingly. No, this man is James Wan, the writer, and director of Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter Two, to name a few projects he’s touched.
A Malaysian man born in 1977, he went to Australia to begin his film career, where he went to technical school and learned the trade through on-site works. He’d been involved in over ten multi-million dollar films, from all of the Saw movies as either writer, director or producer, and he directed the Conjuring, one of the better haunting stories as of late. A few years ago he released a thriller called Dead Silence, where the ghost of a ventriloquist seeks revenge on the people that killed her through supernatural means. In short, he’s done quite a bit in the last ten years that make him praiseworthy.
What makes him as versatile as a horror artist is that he’s come at the genre from all angles: writer, producer, and director. He’s had to write, and rewrite, scripts for movies on the fly while coming up with ideas for camera angles and shots that would elicit the most suspense possible from the movie goer. His work in Saw, while now a reviled spatter fest of blood and guts that has turned horror into just that, was absolutely brilliant storytelling when it first came out. The way the plot flows from movie to movie can sometimes force someone to actually try and map out what is happening at the same time as in the last movie, or the next. He takes well over fifty actors and puts them on a stage in intervals, revealing to the audience towards the end of each movie where in the franchise this one sits (prequel, concurrent or sequel). Surprise characters are revealed that one assumed were gone, and minor characters blow up into major ones that, had we been more astute, we may have guessed it earlier in the movie.
As for his more supernatural movies, such as Insidious Chapter Two, the Conjuring, and Dead Silence, he pulls out any and all barriers for these films to allow suspense to climax not once per movie, but several times in a short, rapid succession. In The Conjuring, a family that has recently moved into a house is experiencing a haunting that they cannot explain. When the experts show up to try and get rid of the spirit, it latches onto them as well and goes after their daughter. When that fails, the ghost immediately returns to haunting the family, possessing the mother and having her try and kill her two youngest children. All throughout, there are multiple ghosts, all but one merely there to scare, and the feel of the movie is one long scene that just makes the movie roll together so well.
In Insidious Chapter Two, the movie takes place concurrently as the first one, first acting as a prequel, then moving as a sequel, then traveling time in a ghostly dimension to cause unanswered effects in the first movie. This kind of storytelling generally takes years in advance to create, which is doubly impressive as James Wan didn’t write the first Insidious movie. Perhaps he was able to get the original screenwriters together and get their notes, but he created a unique perspective on movies where an afterlife is an option that has never been seen before, a kind of mix of purgatory and a mental ward that leaves one feeling incredibly lost, yet claustrophobic.
With Dead Silence, his first major picture after he wrote Saw, he went all out on the disturbing scale and took the phobia of glassy-eyed dolls to a new level. The movie revolves around a man whose wife was killed and face torn apart by some unseen force. By inserting a Freddy Krueger-esque rhyme to explain the ghost of a dead ventriloquist, we begin to see a town that has been abandoned due to wanton murders that are unexplainable while we find out how much more depraved this puppeteer truly was, experimenting with human bodies to create the perfect puppet.
One theme that James Wan enjoys sticking to is inserting dummies or dolls into his movies. The doll from Saw can also be seen in Dead Silence while the doll from The Conjuring is one of the dolls from Dead Silence. Wan has also been known to side with the idea that horror as a genre is an underrepresented craft that is harder to make and even harder to sell, as people won’t buy it if they see the so-called seams. “We think craft is important, and the irony has always been that horror may be disregarded by critics, but often they are the best-made movies you're going to find in terms of craft. You can't scare people if they see the seams.”
A final bit of trivia for you movie goers out there just screaming for more. Saw was originally meant for the Sundance film festival and was rejected as being too intense. They actually asked Wan to edit it down to where it would be a watered-down version of its former self.
But as far as the movies go, I’ve slowly begun to become invigorated by them once again. Perhaps Hollywood has heard our pleas for something decent in the way of horror and are throwing us a bone. If that’s the case, I call dibs on the marrow.