James Wan and Leigh Whannell Talk "Insidious," Playlists, and More
Tue, 29 Mar 2011 12:42:38
Insidious is a game changer for the horror genre.
The film creeps inside psyches with a story that dispels any sense of security from the very first frame. Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell—the two horror visionaries behind the original Saw—architect a veritable masterpiece and they barely spill a drop of blood in the process. Insidious hearkens back to the psychological horror of Alfred Hitchcock, but it does so by infusing a new take on the supernatural "ghost story" that audiences have never seen before. It's not only the scariest film of 2011; it's one of the best movies of the year because of that subtlety.The film tells the story of Josh and Renai Lambert [Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne], two parents whose son has just fallen comatose. However, in the aftermath, Renai continues to have visions of all kinds of evil at her most vulnerable times in the house. Unlocking numerous secrets, the truth is revealed along the way via one of the most unnerving, unsettling, and unforgettable genre tales in decades.
Insidious will haunt you…
Sitting in the séance room at the Magic Castle, Wan laughs, "Can you imagine if you saw Insidious at night just before you had to go back to sleep? That would stay in your head."
However, his execution of this story was so deft that at any time of day Insidious remains terrifying. Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive feature about the levels of fear within Insidious, creating terror via music, the film's demon, their playlists, and so much more.
Don't miss Insidious when it hits theaters Friday April 1, 2011!
Does a lot of the film's terror how vulnerable we are when we sleep?
James Wan: Yes! For Leigh and me, the scariest things are those that can happen to us when we're at our most vulnerable. Alfred Hitchcock did that best. In Psycho, he exploited one of the most vulnerable situations that anyone can be in. She's naked in a shower with a guy trying to stab at her body, and there's nothing there to protect her.
Leigh Whannell: There's also nowhere to run!
James Wan: She can't get out of there, and her exposed flash is the only thing between her and the knife. With Insidious, Leigh and I would love to capture those chills. For me, one of the scariest things is waking up in the middle of the night and feeling or sensing that someone's in the room with me.
Leigh Whannell: Forget the shower? What more vulnerable state can you be in than being asleep lying in bed?
James Wan: Waking up and seeing someone watching you sleep is terrifying.
You also explore the fear of the unknown in Insidious. It hits both levels of the psyche in that respect.
Leigh Whannell: I think the unknown—things we don't understand—is really what's scary. You're house is your sanctuary or your fortress. It's a place you know very well. It's where you're raising your kids. You're making dinner every night and you're watching TV. Then all of a sudden, you're walking through your home one day and there's a little boy standing at the end of the corner who's not meant to be there. That is terrifying because it is the unknown personified. Where did he come from? Why is he here? He shouldn't be here. How did he get here. All of those questions can be hinted at in a horror film and cause the same amount of adrenaline that an action film would need a truck driving off a bridge to get.
How did you choose "Tiptoe Through The Tulips"?
James Wan: It's a song that's always stayed with me. When I first heard it, I always thought it was a very creepy song. The fact that it came from Tiny Tim was also intriguing. He's a really interesting character to begin with. He's a really tall guy who has long mangy curly hair and a very interesting face, and he plays the ukulele. That's the thing! A big guy playing the ukulele is so weird [Laughs]. To me, Tiny Tim feels like a David Lynch creation. When I first heard that song, I always thought it belonged in a great serial killer movie. When we came around to make this film, I said to Leigh, "Is there any way to get this song into the movie somehow?" We used the Tiny Tim song as this piece of score that straddles our world and the other world. It connects them both. It's a bit weird. We don't talk about it too much, but it definitely works on a psychological level.
Where did the demon's look come from? He's got a satanic feel, but it's unique.
James Wan: It's funny you should say satanic because, in one way, Leigh and I really didn't want to do a movie that deals with the afterlife or the spiritual world from a religious standpoint. We felt like we didn't need to go there. Most demon possession films would have a catholic priest who comes in there to do the exorcism. We felt like that's been done before and we didn't want to do it that way. We wanted to create this other world. Is it hell? Is it limbo? Is it a combination of the two? I wanted the creature who inhabits this world to have somewhat of a satanic undertone, like you said. In that respect, he's a very classical demon. He has these goat hooves. He has a tail and a forked tongue. Then we change his look. The reason he has a red face is because he paints lipstick on his face. I love the idea of a creature who paints his face with lipstick. It's so creepy and wrong [Laughs]. It's one of those images that will stick with people.
Does the film remind you of any songs? Were you listening to anything while you were working on Insidious?
Leigh Whannell: I usually find music that I feel will be appropriate to the mood or tone of the film before I even start writing. I build a soundtrack to the film before a word has been written, and then I listen to that. It can be really helpful. For Insidious, it was important for me to select tracks that I felt represented what I wanted to write. I wanted stuff that was really avant garde. I didn't want melodic horror film music. There are many horror soundtracks out there available on iTunes or whatever. I wanted this music that was really atonal and shriek-y. I made a CD of composers like George Crumb, Kronos Quartet, Christoph Penderecki, and this other stuff that's alternately somber and extremely assaultive.
James Wan: Leigh was inspired by all of this music. When he handed me the script, he didn't just give me the script, he actually made a CD compilation of all the songs he was listening to. He told me to listen to it as I was reading the script and it was very effective. In a lot of ways, it did inspire me to take the soundtrack down a very avant garde, non-melodic way. I wanted the soundtrack to be very jarring. I wanted it to be quiet one moment and then in-your-face the next. I'm not just doing that to make you jump. I just want to put the audience constantly on edge. I wanted anxiety. I want you to have a panic attack as you're watching Insidious. That's what I was going for and the score is such an important part of that.
Who are some of your favorite bands?
Leigh Whannell: I genuinely believe I listen to a bit of everything. When I was in high school, I went through a huge hip hop phase. I was a white boy from the suburbs of Melbourne listening to Ice Cube and Public Enemy. I thought I was really badass [Laughs]. I still listen to all of that and I love it when new, exciting hip hop comes. We were just at SXSW, and Odd Future were the talk of the festival. They're from L.A., and I feel like they're doing something a bit different. I love bands like Interpol, Band of Horses, and Arcade Fire. I love classic rock like Led Zeppelin too as well as a lot of film soundtracks. James and I both listen to a lot of film soundtracks.
James Wan: You don't want to know my every day taste in music [Laughs]. It's very different from what I use in my films. I'm a hardcore romantic so I listen to sappy love songs. I love Michelle Branch and Jewel [Laughs].
Leigh Whannell: Oddly enough, serial killers listen to the same music.
Well, if you said Slayer and Metallica, it'd be predictable!
Leigh Whannell: That's the thing! I'm an old metal head. Slayer is one of my favorite bands. I love Metallica. I'm totally into metal.
James Wan: I make these scary films; I don't want that in my everyday life. I'm revisiting Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris."
Leigh Whannell: That's what they play at Guantanamo Bay [Laughs].
James Wan: "Pachelbel's Canon in D" is my favorite classical piece. That's how I relax!
Leigh Whannell: I relax with Reign In Blood [Laughs]. Joseph Bishara, who plays the demon in the film and he's the composer, took me to see a Swedish satanic metal group called Watain. They have a full altar on the stage that says, "Hail Satan!" Joe takes me to the Whisky on Sunset for the show. Just before Watain goes on, this indescribable stench hits me in the face. I turn to Joe and say, "Someone just let off a stink bomb." He goes, "Yeah, it happens all the time at metal shows!" It turns out that it was rotten meat the band had been taking around the states with them. They pull it out of these tubs and put it on the stage. It's insane!
Will you be seeing Insidious when it hits theaters Friday April 1?