Exclusive Set Visit: Insidious Chapter 2
"I think this could be my last horror film." - James Wan
He tried to castrate himself
One more time Barbara, James asks behind the monitor before setting up the camera to its original position. A little slower. The rig swings back to its mark and then glides along the dolly again as the camera captures the ruins of this abandoned hospital set before landing on Barbara Hershey. Leigh Whannell, reprising his role as Specs, hits his cue out of frame; What was he doing here in the first place?
He tried to castrate himself.
This was maybe the sixth take of Barbara Hershey reciting this line and every time had me giggling as I havent the faintest idea as to its context.
Great! Lets move on.
Its the 24th day of filming for INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 with only two days left. This is Transformers compared to the first movie, producer Jason Blum explained to the small group of us watching the action. Im kidding of course, but the first movie was 19 or 20 days. We have a bit more resources, but not much. I have a firm belief that the more money you take, the more you give up creative control.
If there is one aspect that stuck with me watching James Wan and his crew set up a handful of scares in these dark corridors for their sequel to 2011s INSIDIOUS, its how much his team lives by this philosophy. Youd never think these guys were making a sequel to a film that turned a million dollar passion project into a 100 million dollar hit. Its definitely the same indie spirit as the first film. James proudly tells us.
When I arrived on location inside the inauspicious abandoned Linda Vista Hospital in Los Angeles, I had already heard this building had been a hotspot for on-location filming, but I had no idea why. We visited here to research ghost hunting for the first film. We specifically wrote hospital stuff for the second movie so we could shoot here. James explained, prepping his final shots for the day. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 by the way, will be the final film these abandoned walls will host before Los Angeles turns her into a retirement home. It had previously been a location for the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, William Friedkin, Michael Bay, Freddy Kruger and Buffy, among others. Its a historic landmark; its also central to the sequel.
So heres what we know: INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 spends a lot of time in this hospital and as it turns out, a good chunk of that time is set in the 1980s as a parallel story with the younger versions of the characters, not too dissimilar from structure of THE GODFATHER 2. This parallel story deals with Patrick Wilsons character as a boy with THE HOUSE OF THE DEVILS Jocelin Donahue as his mother and Barbara Hersheys younger counterpart (is that not BRILLIANT casting?). A younger version of Lin Shayes Elise Rainer also plays a part in this parallel tale, and thats not necessarily just a round about way to get her character back after her apparent demise at the end of the first film. No, Lin is alive and (perhaps not entirely) well.
Tonight we just filmed the scene where you first see me back. Lin told us smiling. We start with a high point, my character just died. Its already on edge. It certainly is, and it doesnt come without a number of questions Will we only get to see you in the other side, the further? Do you come back to life for real? If so, what do you and Agent Coulson eat for breakfast?
Its hard to go into whats different about it without ruining anything, but its a real continuation of the first film, this film picks up directly from where the last film left off. It feels more like the second half of the first film, which is why we are calling it Chapter 2. Leigh, continuing his role as actor/writer/producer, explained. What we do know is that the Lambert family is as much the center of the story as the first one, but whats literally changing is the genre, as Barbara puts it Its a bit of a murder mystery, which is a wonderful addition to their story.
A murder mystery that apparently spans decades and dimensions, as Leigh puts it one of the interesting things about the first film is the reaction from people. The first half of the film sets up a fairly traditional haunted house film and then it starts to go further with these more outlandish concepts. James and I noticed that it was kind of polarizing People would say The film was great up until, etc.. We always said that was what we wanted to do. We knew we couldnt make the first half of the film for the whole movie, we knew itd have to descend into chaos. Whats interesting about the sequel is that now all that crazy stuff is established. From the very start were going to continue in the further world.
And without giving too much away, James continues, the second movie visits the first movie. BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 style, perhaps?
The production team was keen on showing us how they were utilizing the hospital for a number of set pieces, including inserts from the original family home seen in the first film, as they only had access to the exteriors of that house this time around. In one corridor youd see little Foster Lamberts room, in the next youd see an authentic 1980s makeshift elevator built from scratch. Ok its like any other set, so why am I enamored with this one? Because the popularity of this place immediately becomes evident when you walk around; these sets dress themselves. The films production designer Jennifer Spence showed us a gorgeous looking room dressed floor to ceiling with old gnarly patient files stacked on top of each other, cobwebs abound, an old filing desk and rustic light fixtures. It was now a hospital archive Josh and Renai explore (to research this mysterious castrated man haunting them perhaps). This kind of beautiful macabre set piece would have taken Tim Burton a large team of designers and a lot of cash to recreate. The kicker is that all of this material is authentic and was scattered about the hospital already; Jennifer just had to put it together.
Its that kind of guerilla filmmaking that still gets to me with James Wan as a filmmaker. After all of his success he still exercises his filmic sensibilities, both in design and execution, like Sly when hes after Drago in ROCKY IV (meaning cheaply, you know logs and rope instead of a state of the art gym). He genuinely appreciates that horror can be at its most effective with only dark corners and an imagination. How is that not impressive?
James: We spent years literally just sitting around telling ghost stories. You joke about it but we literally just tried to scare the crap out of each other before deciding to put it in a movie. We took all the great scares we heard about.
Leigh: James and I have exhausted every scary set piece. We have a huge trunk of set pieces weve been building over years and years of telling stories weve used them all. Before we started the sequel we said weve got nothing left!
Which does beg the question, how will you pull it off? If you think youve exhausted every scary set piece, and youve acknowledged the jarring reactions in the shift to the third act of the first movie after a terrific build up, where do you go from there?
One of the great things about a haunted house movie is watching unsuspecting people slowly uncover that something is wrong. It starts off with a dish falling on the ground or chairs are being stacked weirdly and it builds and builds. Its one of the great structural traditions of haunted house movies. With this were using the same family so James and I were at the start knowing that wed have to come up with something really scary knowing that these guys arent going to be questioning whats around the corner, they know what it is! Given that, I think we came up with something that will scare the family a new. Something that will turn it around, obviously we cant talk about it. Its a different angle. Continuing with Barbaras earlier comment, Without spoiling anything it does take it almost into a different genre.
Patrick Wilson can't help but add, "This time it's a western!"
It does seem like a double edge sword. On one hand part of the success of the first film is the old school slow burn haunted house effect, which is eliminated all together when it becomes the second chapter with the same family. On the other hand, would it really be scary with a brand new family with a similar history to Josh? Regurgitating the same scares that are all too familiar with an audience that experienced the first film? Its really the ultimate question to a sequel about hauntings. Theres the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY route or the POLTERGUEST 2 route. Frankly, while they are coy about the specifics Im giving them the benefit of the doubt for one reason: the family, to me, made INSIDIOUS work. As Rose Byrne told us this feels like coming back to another season of a TV show in a way. Its all the same great people. I was initially nervous but its been welcoming.
James agreed, I had such a fun time working with these guys. He elaborated on this being the first true sequel he has directed, At the end of SAW when Jigsaw shuts the door, for us that was it. With this one weve always kind of had other plans and ideas and we didnt push it all the way so we thought ok, well see how the film does because we know there is potential for a second storyline.
Interestingly, while we now know James will be applying his guerilla filmmaking to THE FAST AND FURIOUS 7 so it can make its release next year, we didnt know what was next for the director when I visited the set in March. After three back to back supernatural horror films, he did acknowledge being typecast as a genre filmmaker.
I guess I just have had a lot of success in this genre, I didnt really ask for it I just sort of fell into it just because my first film out of the gate was so successful. Being in Hollywood, you can be put into a box. I do want to do something different. I think this could be my last horror film." The cast and crew actually seemed taken back by the comment. "I would like try something different.
If hes right and this is his last horror film, even if only for a while, lets hope INSIDIOUS 2 sends him off with a bang. Hope you dug our look inside James Wans horror follow up, be sure to look for INSIDIOUS 2 September 13th.
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|Extra Tidbit:||Who else is exited to see Ty Simpkins return as the oldest son Dalton after the scene stealer played opposite Robert Downey Jr. in IRON MAN 3?|