There has been talk about James Wan leaving the horror genre ever since news broke that he was recruited to direct Fast & Furious 7, but of course he’d need to leave the genre if he committed to make an action film. However, the problem is that apparently Wan isn’t just going on a horror hiatus while making the next Fast & Furious movie. He’s leaving horror for good.
Moviefone ran an interview conducted in July for the release of Wan’s latest directorial effort, Insidious: Chapter 2, and in that interview, Wan is quoted as saying:
“I'm going to go on record and say I am finished with the horror genre. Conjuring and Insidious 2 are my two last scary movies.”
Naturally, Moviefone followed up asking for a reason for Wan’s decision to go cold turkey, to which the director replied, “I spent the last ten years of my life doing this. It's time for a change, for goodness sake!” Wan also added, “Hollywood puts you in a box. If you do a successful comedy, then you're known as The Comedy Guy. If you do a successful car chase movie, then you become that guy. So I'm a student of cinema, so I just want to make sure I get the chance to make other kinds of films.”
This is a major problem for a number of reasons. First off, as a diehard fan of the genre and Wan, it’s as simple as not wanting to lose a talented director. Of course the guy isn’t perfect, but he’s clearly better than most and it’s for two main reasons – one, he cares about characters and two, he has an exceptional sense of what scares him - and, in turn, what will scare his audiences.
Speaking to the first point, just look at The Conjuring. The movie is above and beyond thanks to a slew of standout elements, but one of the film’s most impressive takeaways is the connection to both the Warrens and the Perrons. Wan doesn’t just put a helpless family in a house with a witch and fill it with jump scares. He makes you fall for that family and then uses that connection to earn stronger, deeper reactions.
This is even more evident in the Saw franchise, because what makes the only Saw film Wan directed a standout is that he doesn’t lean on the clever concept. He brings it to life in the most visceral manner possible and goes beyond the shock value by using the situation and environment to support the main characters rather than have it the other way around. As the Saw franchise progressed, it didn’t matter how far the filmmakers pushed Jigsaw’s death traps; when you don’t care about the person in them, they can only have a fleeting effect.
Wan also has a knack for putting his victims in scenarios that feel real and it’s likely that has to do with his approach to scares. During a Q&A session after the premiere of the Insidious 2 trailer, Wan explained:
“When I was designing some of the scares for Insidious and my previous scary movie that I shot, one of the things I would do is literally walk through my house late at night with all the lights out and think up these really trippy, creepy scenarios and if I get really creeped out then I know it’s working.”
It sounds simple, but there’s irrefutable truth to it. If the thought of a particular scare doesn’t frighten the filmmaker, how will it every have the intended effect on an audience? Think about the horror films that have debuted this year – Texas Chainsaw 3D, Mama, The Last Exorcism Part II, and The Purge, just to name a few. Evil Dead is an exception because it actually manages to wow via exceptional visuals alone, but the rest suffer from vapid gory imagery and/or hollow concepts.
No matter the genre, a director with a pristine attention to detail who’s dedicated to ensuring that he or she fills in the cracks in an effort to truly put the viewer in their world, is going to come out with the better movie. Wan isn’t the only one who does that in the horror genre, but he is one of few, and therefore, will sorely be missed.
But even then, we’re still left with the question, why completely swear off horror? As a big fan of Wan, of course I want him to see him fulfill his goals, but why not just go off and make Fast and Furious 7 and whatever other non-horror material he can get his hands on and just leave us eagerly awaiting his return to the genre?
As a scary movie devotee, going as far as to sat “on the record” that “I am finished with the horror genre” is the slightest bit insulting. It makes total sense that if Wan’s got more expansive aspirations that he wouldn’t want to be pigeonholed Hollywood-style - but, from an outsider’s perspective, being associated with the horror genre only brought Wan the best. He didn’t have to renounce the genre to get Fast and Furious 7, did he?
The fact that there’s really no need to say such a thing makes saying it hurtful. It’s highly unlikely this is what Wan meant, but it could be interpreted as, "horror movies were just the stepping-stones to get me to the good stuff." That could certainly be warping the connotation of the quote to the extreme, but there’s still no denying that the statement does put the genre in a negative light and further highlights the stigma that horror movies aren’t as good as films of other genres.
Then there’s the fact that anything definitive in Hollywood is eventually proven false. Wan swearing off horror is alarming, but come on; we all know he’ll be back. Producer Jason Blum even told us that himself while promoting Insidious Chapter 2:
“I think the horror movies that he makes next and certainly the ones that I make are better for working on other genres … I think he says he’s not gonna make another horror movie, but I’m sure that he will and it will be even better for having done Fast and Furious.”
In Blum I trust, so hopefully that statement will prove true - but it still doesn’t alleviate the fact that this very public move is somewhat off-putting.
James Wan, please do ride off into the sunset in a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, bathe yourself in a bucket of melodramatic tears, or whatever else it takes to make the kind of movie you want - you’ve certainly earned it – but what good does it do to completely write-off horror entirely? In a way, Wan is doing exactly what he doesn’t want to do: pigeonholing himself as a non-horror director. If the statement was more of a plea to the industry to start sending him more material outside the horror genre, then what if there’s a gem like The Conjuring floating around somewhere? Wan's not going to take it because he 'doesn't do horror anymore?'
Admittedly, this could be an overly emotional and intense reaction to a mere two sentences, but it’s because horror needs James Wan. We’ve got guys like Scott Derrickson (Sinister), Timo Tjahjanto (VHS 2), Adam Wingard (You're Next), Ti West (The Sacrament), E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills), and more on the rise - but that’s partially because Wan paved the way, making micro-budget hits that broke down barriers between a niche genre and wider audiences.
The aforementioned filmmakers are all talented in and of themselves, but after what Wan started with the Saw franchise and the fact that he proved it’s possible to make well-reviewed horror movies with the power to appeal beyond the usual crowd, we’ve hit a point where we can start breaking down negative associations, expanding the horror fan base, and producing even more quality material. It’s just a shame James Wan doesn’t want to continue the movement.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is now in theaters (read our review).
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.