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Dissecting The Director: James Wan

05.01.2012by: Marcey Papandrea

"JAMES WAN"

Without question, James Wan is one of the most exciting new filmmakers to hit our genre over the last few years. The Aussie filmmaker made quite the splash with his partner in crime Leigh Whannell and their smash hit SAW (which went on to become one of the most profitable franchises). Since then, Wan has been working steadily, bringing us an array of new and interesting films. I have been a fan since the beginning with this man, and he certainly knows his stuff and knows how to keep things interesting. He has worked up quite the unique resume, so let’s take a look at this awesome talent ...

BEST WORK


Get Insidious on DVD here
Get Insidious on Blu-ray here

I could almost put his entire filmography here, as all of his films are fabulous. However, I think there is one which stands out above the rest, and this film proves that horror can still be scary in this day and age. I speak of course about INSIDIOUS, the film which scared us all and left quite the impression on more than a few people. Watching this film in the theater was quite the rewarding experience. It had some great atmosphere, and I actually got freaked out a few times. It also holds up to repeated viewings as well, and you'll find some things in there that you probably missed the first time.

The first two acts of this film are excellent. I think that it loses a bit of steam with the third act, but it was still exceptionally good and entertaining. At first glance, it’s a haunted house film, but for those of us who have seen it know that it is much more than that. As the film progresses, it really becomes something quite unique and even disturbing. The script written by Leigh Whannell is a really intriguing one. It’s very sharp, really smart, and at times it has a bit of humour. The pairing of Whannell and Wan works so perfectly here, as Wan really brought Whannell's words to life and it looks and feels amazing.

The performances in the film are fantastic, Wan always gets great performances from his actors, and they absolutely shine in this film. Patrick Wilson and Rose Bryne are the central couple. They felt very natural and they had that 'couple' chemistry that really worked for their characters and the situation that they were in. The two boys Ty Simpkins and Andrew Astor were both also really good. They actually came off really well and weren't annoying, which can sometimes happen with poorly written child roles. Certainly not the case here. Leigh Whannell also has a supporting role, along with Australian comedian Angus Sampson. Both were really good and very entertaining. Barbara Hershey was solid. It was cool to see her, albeit in a small role. The stand out though was the wonderful and always extremely entertaining Lin Shaye. This woman was fantastic, and I thought that she gave one of the best supporting performances in a recent horror film. Very natural and very creepy, this woman owned the role.

INSIDIOUS is really great and a genuinely creepy effort. The film works on so many levels. While the third act may have been lacking, it certainly didn't bring the rest of the film down for me. I actually liked the direction, and I appreciated the ending as well. These types of films don't come around often, and with this, James Wan delivered and proved here that he is one of the best directors working today.

WORST WORK


Get Dead Silence on DVD here
Get Dead Silence on Blu-ray here

I actually don't think Wan has delivered a bad film, so it feels a little odd to write about something that I'd call the worst of his filmography. That said, I would place Dead Silence here, but only as his weakest. I actually like the film a lot, it’s just that it isn't as good as his others. I think this film divided audiences a lot because no one really knew what to make of it. It’s a kind of old-school creepy horror film mixed in with some humor and amazing visuals. It can be difficult to really embrace a film when you can't really put your finger on what it’s meant to be. I think that this is the thing that brings the film down a notch, but I try to think of it as a bit of a twisted fairy tale.

The story here is actually simple: a man whose wife was killed (it is a very creepy scene), returns to his home town in order to find answers as to what happened. Along the way, he finds it may be linked to the murder of a ventriloquist. The film is filled with mystery, one of those extremely unsettling small towns, and not to mention creepy puppets and dolls. If you find those things frightening, this film will do a great job of freaking you out!

I actually quite enjoyed the mystery here, as well as the messed-up small town and the extremely messed-up family of our main character, Jamie (played by fellow Aussie Ryan Kwanten). I thought that it all sort of worked in a very quirky way. I especially liked the set design and atmosphere. The third act was perhaps my favourite, as it all really came together and it was both creepy and very fun. I do think that after the opening scene, the film takes a bit too much time to really suck the audience in, as it seems a bit slow after the amazing opening.

Dead Silence isn't a perfect film, but it is a pretty entertaining one. Heck, Donnie Wahlberg alone is worth the price of admission. I can understand why some people don't like the film, but I honestly think that it’s worth a shot.

TRADEMARKS

I mentioned earlier about the James Wan-Leigh Whannell partnership, and this really is a big trademark of both men. These guys have been friends for a long time, and they have developed this great bond and a fantastic working relationship. Their scripts are great, and it is always great to see Whannell acting with Wan as his director. I really do have a lot of trust and faith in both of these men, and their work is very much top notch.

I find that James Wan has really developed a clear directing style, and he uses some of the same tricks and techniques in his films. All of his films have a specific look to them, a kind of washed-out colour look, but also very vibrant at the same time. His films are also structured very well, and he likes to use the quick cuts and crazy editing to enhance the experience. This is perhaps more evident in SAW and in INSIDIOUS.

Wan also likes to put in little references in his films of other films that he likes. Some are easy to pick up on, and others might not be as obvious. Next time you watch one of his films, try to find these references, as I think you'll enjoy them. I would also say a Wan trademark is the use of puppets. That man knows his stuff when it comes to those bad boys, as they’re honestly the stuff of nightmares.

HIDDEN GEM


Get Death Sentence on DVD here

Did you know James Wan directed the bad-ass revenge film DEATH SENTENCE? When I first saw this film I actually didn't know that my boy Wan was behind it, and by golly is this a good one! It really is a throwback to those films from the 70's. It kind of has that vibe, yet feels very modern as well.

The film is about a man named Nick (Kevin Bacon). He’s your typical family man and a senior vice president of a company. Things are good for him, but all that changes when he's driving his son back from a hockey game and they stop at a gas station. Nick’s son is murdered by a punk for a gang initiation, and this turns his life upside down. The grieving father receives no peace when the punk receives a short prison sentence. Nick seeks out his revenge, and in turn the gang (and older brother) of the punk try and kill Nick as retaliation, yet their plans don't go according to plan.

It’s an intense film, as these revenge films usually are. The murder is really quite disturbing, especially when you see how the punk (played by Matt O'Leary of Frailty fame) acts afterwards. All through the film you are clearly on Nick's side, and you want to see him get this gang, led by Billy (a pre TRON: LEGACY Garrett Hedlund). This is crazy stuff, and let me tell you this all works extremely well. Wan seemed very natural for this film, and it’s quite the departure from the other films he has done. I think that because it’s different that this one falls under the radar. It is extremely well directed, shot and acted. Kevin Bacon owned this film and I would love for these two men to work together again. If you haven't tapped this baby yet, please, go do it right now!

NEXT PROJECT

James Wan is currently working on a spooky new project titled THE WARREN FILES. The film will star a great cast including Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lilli Taylor, Ron Livingston, Mackenzie Foy, Joey King, Shanley Caswell and Hayley McFarland.

The story is based on the real life tale of the Perron family and their ordeals in the 1970s. Wilson and Farmgia (below) will be playing a husband and wife team of demonologists and psychic investigators who enter the most horrifying case of their career, spirits in a Rhode Island farmhouse.

OVERALL


Get Saw on DVD here
Get Saw on Blu-ray here

James Wan really is one of my favourite directors working today, this man knows his horror and he makes it good! I am a huge fan of SAW, I loved what he and Whannell did there and it really was the kick in the pants that the genre needed. There are many imitators, but there can be only one SAW. Since then, I think that Wan has only improved and he will continue to do so. His latest film sounds really promising, and there is no doubt in my mind that he can pull that off. If you haven't really discovered Wan, now would be a good time to do so. Enjoy what this amazing filmmaker has to offer, and I just want to say thank you for everything, James. You are the man!

Is there a director you hope to see Dissected? Feel free to send Marcey your suggestions to marcey@joblo.com

Extra Tidbit: James Wan and Leigh Whannell based certain aspects of SAW on nightmares they had has children.
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3:40AM on 05/02/2012
I like Wan's work and I think it's a shame he's not planning a castlevania movie anymore. Also, his best work is without a doubt DEATH sentence and Dead silence's crippy doll/witch is far more scarier than "Insidious" which I think is not that scary nor original.
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I like Wan's work and I think it's a shame he's not planning a castlevania movie anymore. Also, his best work is without a doubt DEATH sentence and Dead silence's crippy doll/witch is far more scarier than "Insidious" which I think is not that scary nor original.
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11:57PM on 05/01/2012
Fantastic Dissecting The Director this week! I'm a huge fan of James Wan's work and it's always great to see his work appreciated. In particular, I loved your pick for his Hidden Gem. Death Sentence is an awesome flick that is horribly underrated, in my opinion. Great job Marcey!
Fantastic Dissecting The Director this week! I'm a huge fan of James Wan's work and it's always great to see his work appreciated. In particular, I loved your pick for his Hidden Gem. Death Sentence is an awesome flick that is horribly underrated, in my opinion. Great job Marcey!
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11:27PM on 05/01/2012
Fuck Yea on all accounts, though i dont really like dead silence as much as you did, and i still love dead sentence
Fuck Yea on all accounts, though i dont really like dead silence as much as you did, and i still love dead sentence
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1:46PM on 05/01/2012
WOW! alterra2010; just beat me to it. James Wan and Leigh Whannel ripped off a low-budget movie called "DEN". I will attach the link below my comment. Arrow in the head actually brought this to my attention first around 2005. I actually read that the director of "Den" and studio for "Saw" settled with a UN-disclosed amount of money. James Wan and Leigh Whannel broke into the movie industry by doing some bad shit. It would be crazy to say they are the only ones who've done this. Before their
WOW! alterra2010; just beat me to it. James Wan and Leigh Whannel ripped off a low-budget movie called "DEN". I will attach the link below my comment. Arrow in the head actually brought this to my attention first around 2005. I actually read that the director of "Den" and studio for "Saw" settled with a UN-disclosed amount of money. James Wan and Leigh Whannel broke into the movie industry by doing some bad shit. It would be crazy to say they are the only ones who've done this. Before their agents or die-hard fans fire bomb my email with spam, I would like to say that "Insidious" was very impressive in terms of creating it with only 1 million dollar budget. I would say James Wan and Leigh Whannel can still have a damn good career as long as they keep making quality horror films with low-budgets.

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1:34PM on 05/01/2012
It's a sad day for horror when a hack like Wan is lauded as a good genre director.
It's a sad day for horror when a hack like Wan is lauded as a good genre director.
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12:44PM on 05/01/2012

Death Sentence

I love the parking garage scene. It has one of the coolest crane shots I've seen in a while and it really ramps up the tension as we follow Bacon trying to escape the gang.
I love the parking garage scene. It has one of the coolest crane shots I've seen in a while and it really ramps up the tension as we follow Bacon trying to escape the gang.
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12:01PM on 05/01/2012
I'd agree with making Saw his best work but Insidious is well deserving of that sort of praise. Great film, and Death Sentence rocked my world.
I'd agree with making Saw his best work but Insidious is well deserving of that sort of praise. Great film, and Death Sentence rocked my world.
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11:37AM on 05/01/2012
Glad to see "Death Sentence" get some love, its a great and sadly underrated flick. Also happy you didn't champion "Saw" as his best, I know it has its fans and created a serious money-maker but i think Wan's stlye has improved alot since that movie (espicially since he stopped with all that fast-motion garbage) and think has become one of the most impressive directors style and shot wise around at this moment.
Glad to see "Death Sentence" get some love, its a great and sadly underrated flick. Also happy you didn't champion "Saw" as his best, I know it has its fans and created a serious money-maker but i think Wan's stlye has improved alot since that movie (espicially since he stopped with all that fast-motion garbage) and think has become one of the most impressive directors style and shot wise around at this moment.
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11:36AM on 05/01/2012
Insidious is, in my opinion one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. No matter how many times I watch it, I jump.

Can't wait for The Warren Files.
Insidious is, in my opinion one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. No matter how many times I watch it, I jump.

Can't wait for The Warren Files.
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9:44AM on 05/01/2012
I'd give "Saw" as Wan's best work. At the time, it was intense, thrilling and very fresh. Saw's ending was some of the chilling ending in a movie I've ever seen. Insidious is good too but I like Saw better.
I'd give "Saw" as Wan's best work. At the time, it was intense, thrilling and very fresh. Saw's ending was some of the chilling ending in a movie I've ever seen. Insidious is good too but I like Saw better.
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