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James Wan and Leigh Whannell Creep Back in With “Insidious”

James Wan and Leigh Whannell Creep Back in With “Insidious” (photo)

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Shortly after ordering a stack of pancakes on the morning of the his film’s premiere at SXSW, James Wan is explaining how he much prefers the “sugary crap” to maple syrup, a notable precursor to our conversation since the half-hour that followed was a demonstration of how sweet he and longtime collaborator, actor/screenwriter Leigh Whannell, can be. In each other’s company, the two giggle as they kid each other about Uwe Boll movies and enthuse about Barbara Hershey in a way only film buffs can. Which is why it remains something of a mystery why these two kindly kids from Melbourne, Australia always aim to scare the bejeezus out of audiences, though it’s one with considerably less intrigue than their latest film “Insidious,” a thriller that operates like a Rubik’s Cube of horror subgenres where once you’ve unscrambled one side, it’s onto the next.

This mashup stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as parents who have recently moved into a new home when their older son (Ty Simpkins) falls into a coma after hitting his head, leading Byrne’s Renai to believe their new digs are cursed, only to discover after moving across town that while the kid’s body may be at rest, he may be running amok elsewhere as a result of astral projection. As you may have heard, the film was produced by the creators of “Paranormal Activity,” which isn’t only interesting as a marketing hook, but as a union of the two parties most responsible for the direction of horror films in the last decade, considering that Wan and Whannell’s debut “Saw” would eventually popularize the gore-heavy leanings of the genre in the years that followed despite the fact the initial film in the franchise induced far more chills with its wits than severed limbs.

Although it’s no less terrifying, there are no body parts flying in “Insidious,” either, but the film does share the go-for-broke abandon that made “Saw” such a success as well as the fact that for the first time since then, Wan and Whannell have made a film completely independent of the studio system, which the two talk about, in addition to how they got into the supernatural and their friendship, in the interview below.

Leigh has said before that this was the right time for this movie to be made, so why now? I imagine it had to be a difficult film to pitch to people.

Leigh Whannell: We didn’t actually pitch the story to anyone. The producers of “Paranormal Activity” came to us and said we want to make a film with you and that sparked the idea for the film. It was like we were ready to take it easy and do nothing. [laughs] Then all of a sudden from nowhere, it was like bang, let’s make a movie and next thing we know, I was writing and then by the time I got back from Australia, they were in pre-production.

James Wan: We started making the film without him. It’s like, “Hey guys, but I want to make the film!”

LW: I came back they had finished shooting.

JW: We had to digitally insert Leigh in the film.

03312011_Insidious.jpgIn a strange way, “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity” came to represent the opposite extremes of the horror genre of the last decade, which made it easy for people to suggest there was a rivalry between the two in the media. Were you actually surprised when “Paranormal”‘s Oren Peli and Jason Blum reached out to make this?

JW: Actually, all the made-up competition came along after Leigh and I had already befriended the producers of “Paranormal Activity” and so when all that stuff was happening, it was more “huh” – one of those things that came along after. But like you say, it really was made up by the media because we all get along really well.

LW: It’s funny. We never mentioned “Saw” or “Paranormal” throughout the entire making of this film. We just talked about this film, that was the priority. They definitely love it as much as we do, so unless they’re doing some sort of drawn out conspiracy to ruin us, then they’re onboard with this film.

JW: There’s no need for them to do that, right?

LW: We did it ourselves. [laughs]

Were you a little frustrated by what you were seeing in the horror genre?

LW: We didn’t think there was anything scary out there.

JW: That was our thing. At the end of the day, Leigh and I just wanted to make something that was unique and scary, but yet people go in there and they’re familiar with it. We picked a particular story structure within the horror world, which is the haunted house subgenre that everyone gets, right? And possession. So we combined those two elements, but then within that, that’s where Leigh and I always had fun with our project – that’s where we take what you think you know about the film and then we just start twisting and spinning the film around.

Speaking of twisting, it seemed like the camera was always moving, which seems like a break from other films like this where there might be long panning shots, but the camera still might be shooting from a stationary position.

JW: Even though the camera moves a lot, I think it’s there to slowly build the tension and they’re not fast camera moves at all. They’re very controlled. I definitely wanted to make a very classical, old fashioned horror film based on very classical, old fashioned filmmaking. If you go back and see what Spielberg did with the first “Jaws,” it’s all very controlled camerawork – or “Duel.”

LW: I read one review that said your direction was very reminiscent of “Dressed to Kill.” That’s pretty cool. Is that something you noticed at all [with the camerawork]?

JW: I look back at my body of work and I definitely see things that excite me in the same way that excite Brian DePalma for sure.

LW: The way he loves to move the camera in…

JW: It’s not just that. He moves his camera, but he does it in a really interesting way.

LW: That opening shot of “Insidious,” to me, is a very DePalma-esque shot. [The camera] comes in upside down and then twisting around.

JW: I was very inspired by someone like [Roman] Polanski as well, [in how] he takes slow, brooding movies that are made in such confined spaces and just builds on that and builds on that and builds on that. That’s what we want to do. But instead of paranoia that we’re building on, we’re building on supernatural things.

03312011_Insidious3.jpgOne of the best things about the film is that you don’t feel manipulated by the frights, which seems to derive directly from having more control over the picture – like editing yourself. What was it like to make an independent film again?

JW: Definitely from our conception of the project to Leigh writing it to me making it, shooting and editing it, post-production and music, I would not have been able to have done all that if I had done it through the studio system. If I had funneled it through the studio system, the movie would have a very different flavor to it.

LW: If we hadn’t been given creative freedom, I think the movie would’ve been different in ways subtle and big. When I was writing, the freedom we were given didn’t manifest itself in me thinking, wow, I can do anything. I can have pink elephants dropping out of the sky.

JW: You could.

LW: I wanted to. That scene’s actually on the disc’s deleted scenes. [laughs] The freedom we’d been given meant that I felt freer with the details. Things like taking time with the characters, being able to establish who they were, having a scene there that may not necessarily advance the plot in a huge way, but it says something about who the characters are. Those were the ways I used this filmmaking capital that had been given to us, not by going and making the craziest thing ever, but by actually taking this rigid form and inserting things into it that you haven’t seen in awhile like getting to know the characters.

Think of “The Exorcist.” How much time was spent in the opening scenes of “The Exorcist” just getting to know the family? I feel like if “The Exorcist” had to be made today, I think they’d say we don’t need this stuff at the start with the mother being an actress. Why do we need to see her on a film set? That’s not important to the possession story. But in the ’70s, you had that room. So in our own small way, we wanted to hearken back to that.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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