From the simple act of being chained in a bathroom with Cary Elwes (not as much fun as it sounds in the movie), Leigh Whannell – along with filmmaking partner and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology classmate James Wan – reinvented modern horror.
In a genre moribund with claggy remakes of much harder classics, all of them toned down to please censors so the studios could fill them full of 14 year olds, Whannel and Wan went further. Their unflinching brand of bloodshed coined the ignominous phrase ‘torture porn’ and spawned a seven-part phenomenon.
For awhile both Wan and Whannel struggled to recapture the lightning in a bottle that gave the world Saw, but another small, simple tale of spirits from another realm – ”Insidious” – put them back on the map. They spoke from LA about the seemingly essential (albeit never planned) sequel.
The film picks up right where the first one left off. Was a sequel written and planned along with the first film?
No, that would’ve meant we were assuming success. But not only did we not know if the first one would be successful, we didn’t have a North American distributor at the time.
We screened the film at the Toronto Film Festival and I remember it was one of the most nerve wracking nights of my life because we screened the film where we’d first shown Saw and it was like this big homecoming. It was great in one way but in another way it was so nerve wracking because we knew that all the buyers that would be interested in a film like Insidious were all there.
We had a real fear Insidious wouldn’t be picked up. Things always seem very assured in hindsight, but we were crapping ourselves. James had just made Death Sentence which didn’t do as well as he wanted, so he was very nervous about Insidious.
So we didn’t have a conversation about a sequel until probably about four or five months after the first one came out in cinemas.
I’m flattered by the assumption that Insidious: Chapter 2 was planned because it locks in so well, but it’s a good bit of sleight of hand.
Is there a third Insidious the works?
We want to wait and see how this sequel connects. Jason Constantine [film exec] at Lionsgate told me ‘one success is a hit movie, a hit sequel is a franchise’, meaning you haven’t got a franchise until the second film does well.
So I’m really curious as to how much the public wants to continue with these characters. Just how much goodwill did we engender with that first film? If it does well, I’ll probably sigh with relief and start thinking about Part 3.
Are you still only writing original scripts, not taking writing jobs?
Yes, I find writing an original film from scratch is so much more comfortable. No one can tell you you’re wrong if you create a world, whereas if I try and take a Tolkien or Stephen King novel and adapt it, there are millions of people who’ll let me know via the internet that I’ve got it wrong.
How do you see horror, and Hollywood in general, evolving?
I worry about studio films becoming more homogenised. I’m seeing a lot of the creativity disappear from studio films. It’s fine if that’s left to independents but I really relish a time when big budgets would be lavished on original ideas.
There’s a very select group of directors who can do that. Chris Nolan is one – Inception is a big budget indie movie, but he’s in a very, very exclusive club and I’m sure this frustrates people going to the movies who want to see a film not based on a comic book character.