If James Wan and Leigh Whannell weren’t so exuberant about “Insidious,” their cheerfully twisted take on a traditional haunted-house chiller starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, you might expect them to be bitter.
It was seven years ago that the Australian filmmakers collaborated on a short film called “Saw,” the blueprint for the most successful horror franchise of the new millennium.
But Wan, who directed, and Whannell, who wrote and starred in the “Saw” that started it all, signed away rights to the franchise to get the low-budget shocker into theaters after it earned a cult following at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival.
For “Insidious,” Wan and Whannell, both 34, are going back to their roots. “I’m proud to say this film is even cheaper than the first ‘Saw,’” says Wan, who returned to Toronto last September to introduce his meticulously crafted homage to “Poltergeist,” which he describes as the movie that “scarred him for life.”
“Insidious” is certifiably indie, but don’t be misled. “The dictionary definition of ‘indie’ is something that’s financed independently,” adds Whannell, “but if you say the word it conjures up images of people in wool-knit beanies talking about Wolf Parade or something. It’s mumblecore.
“This is so low-budget it feels like something we created in our garage. And we’re taking it to all the festivals, doing grassroots publicity. When we were at South by Southwest going up against ‘Source Code,’ it felt like David vs. Goliath — a big Hollywood production vs. our down-and-dirty indie.”
Wan and Whannell sacrificed the advantages of working with big- studio backers to regain the creative control they lost on their last collaboration, the gothic thriller “Dead Silence” (2007), which both would prefer to forget.
Now the so-called forefathers of “torture porn” — a horror subgenre distinguished by extreme gore — are calling all the shots. (Wan proudly points out that he edited the movie on a Mac in his bedroom.) And while they’re quick to point out that the first “Saw” wasn’t nearly as bloody as its six sequels, “Insidious” is entirely splatter-free.
“A haunted-house movie doesn’t need blood and guts,” Wan says emphatically. “Some people hated ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Paranormal Activity,’ but those movies work because of things like atmosphere and sound design. They’re suggestive.”
“We’re realists,” Whannell explains. “If we were making a zombie film, we’d put in as much gore as possible, because that’s what a zombie film needs. But you have to know what you’re selling. If it’s a Volkswagen, don’t advertise it as a Ferrari. We know the requirements. Haunted houses don’t need lots of blood.”
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne
Written by Leigh Whannell
Directed by James Wan
Running time 1 hour 42 minutes