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 haven’t the faintest idea as to its context.

“Great! Let’s move on.”

It’s 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. “I’m 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 2011’s INSIDIOUS, it’s how much his team lives by this philosophy. You’d never think these guys were making a sequel to a film that turned a million dollar passion project into a 100 million dollar hit. “It’s 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. It’s a historic landmark; it’s also central to the sequel.

So here’s 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 1980’s 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 Wilson’s character as a boy with THE HOUSE OF THE DEVILS Jocelin Donahue as his mother and Barbara Hershey’s younger counterpart (is that not BRILLIANT casting?). A younger version of Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainer also plays a part in this parallel tale, and that’s 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. It’s already on edge.” It certainly is, and it doesn’t 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?

“It’s hard to go into what’s different about it without ruining anything, but it’s 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 what’s literally changing is the genre, as Barbara puts it “It’s 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 couldn’t make the first half of the film for the whole movie, we knew it’d have to descend into chaos. What’s interesting about the sequel is that now all that crazy stuff is established. From the very start we’re 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 you’d see little Foster Lambert’s room, in the next you’d see an authentic 1980’s makeshift elevator built from scratch. Ok… it’s 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.

It’s 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 he’s 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 we’ve been building over years and years of telling stories… we’ve used them all. Before we started the sequel we said we’ve got nothing left!”

Which does beg the question, how will you pull it off? If you think you’ve exhausted every scary set piece, and you’ve 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. It’s one of the great structural traditions of haunted house movies. With this we’re using the same family so James and I were at the start knowing that we’d have to come up with something really scary knowing that these guys aren’t going to be questioning what’s 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 can’t talk about it. It’s a different angle.” Continuing with Barbara’s 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? It’s really the ultimate question to a sequel about hauntings. There’s the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY route or the POLTERGEIST 2 route. Frankly, while they are coy about the specifics I’m 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. It’s all the same great people. I was initially nervous but it’s 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 we’ve always kind of had other plans and ideas and we didn’t push it all the way so we thought ok, we’ll 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 he’s right and this is his last horror film, even if only for a while, let’s hope INSIDIOUS 2 sends him off with a bang. Hope you dug our look inside James Wan’s horror follow up, be sure to look for INSIDIOUS 2 September 13th. 



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