He’s been dubbed a member of the “splat pack” (a collection of filmmakers who, since 2002, have resurrected edgy, gory, R-rated horror genre) for a reason: James Wan has an instinctively insidious imagination.
This Friday, Wan returns to the silver screen with Insidious: Chapter 2, the twisted follow-up to 2011’s ghoulish hit Insidious. Here we rank the filmmaker's most insidious projects to date.
It began as a short film shot with a friend and exploded into a pop-culture phenomenon that’s inspired countless genre-related bloodbaths. Following the now iconic Jigsaw killer as he meticulously chooses his “sinful” victims, traps them in impossibly horrific situations and watches as their fate unfolds, the audience is left covering their eyes throughout the terrifying ordeal: from the tense abductions to the grisly end.
Most Insidious Imagery: While many would go for the obvious “saw off the necessary appendage” scene at the end of the movie, Wan’s best scene involves a photographer Jigsaw has chosen as one of his victims. As the photographer searches his dark apartment for a suspected intruder (hello, Jigsaw), he uses his camera flashes to illuminate the dark spaces, but only for a second. Tension mounts with each flash until finally the flash captures Jigsaw, who leaps onto his victim wearing a frightening pig mask.
Insidious Scale: 4/5
Dead Silence 2007
Few things can elicit more terror than dolls (except maybe clowns), so Wan’s modern-day fable about murdered ventriloquist Mary Shaw and her doll “children” will make your skin crawl and pulse race. After the little boy who famously heckles Mary Shaw during her final performance disappears, the townspeople obviously blame the creepy witch. Seeking retribution, the townspeople avenge the boy by cornering Mary Shaw and cutting her talented tongue out of her mouth as she screams. Well, karma can be an unspeaking bitch and now so is Mary Shaw.
Most Insidious Imagery: Horror films first come to life in their opening scenes, and with Dead Silence Wan does not disappoint. When a couple receives a freaky doll named “Billy” in the mail, the woman recalls an old rhyme warning children of Mary Shaw and her dolls. When her partner steps into the kitchen, we hear a bloodcurdling scream followed by, you guessed it, dead silence. When the husband returns to the room, he finds his partner dead on the floor with her tongue ripped from her throat and Billy the doll sitting creepily nearby. The tone of the film is set.
Insidious Scale: 4/5
Death Sentence 2007
In Death Sentence, Wan departs from the horror genre just a bit, but still presents a film with an equally frightening premise: the loss of family to a random act of violence.
When Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) and his hockey-star son are returning from the ice rink, they make a routine pit stop at a convenience store. Wrong place, wrong time, as Nick’s son is killed by a group of thugs completing a gang initiation. Nick is desperate for revenge and violently goes after the gang members, endangering the lives of his wife and surviving son.
Most Insidious Imagery: The inciting incident where Nick’s son, a strong a capable young man, has his throat slit right in front of his father’s eyes. It’s not absolutely terrifying until you reflect on the scene from the father’s perspective: losing a child is any parent’s worst fear.
Insidious Scale: 3/5
One of Wan’s eeriest cinematic ventures follows the Lambert family, whose son has been afflicted by a demonic presence. While many would say "been there, done that" with this premise, there is something much more insidious happening within the Lambert family… something that seems to be passed on from generation to generation. Hell-bent on saving their son from the realm of the undead which plagues him, the Lambert’s resort to desperate measures to bring their son back to the land of the living.
Most Insidious Incident: Before we even know what’s terrorizing the Lamberts, a series of old-school scares ratchet the tension and get the audience to creep to the edge of their seats. Disembodied voices, doors slamming shut, and terrifying ghouls do their best to terrorize the Lambert’s and audience alike, but the most terrifying moment happens in the flash of an eye: while sitting in the kitchen trying to get to the bottom of the paranormal activity happening around then, a red, Sith-like demon appears behind Mr. Lambert. It’s gone almost before you know it’s there, but for that one jarring moment, you’re left paralyzed in fear.
Insidious Scale: 3.5/5
The Conjuring 2013
Wan’s first horror film based on a “true story” is famous for being given an “R” rating by the MPAA for being “too scary.” The film follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they aid a family afflicted by a malicious spiritual force in their home. The Warrens are no strangers to paranormal phenomena (after the events in this story, they famously dealt with the Amityville Horror), but the occurrences on this remote farmhouse are almost too much to handle.
Most Insidious Imagery: While playing hide-and-seek with her daughter, the mother of the farmhouse covers her eyes and follows the claps her daughter is making (Marco Polo style), so she can find her. What she does not know is that the child is no longer clapping. Rather, she’s being led into the basement by a demon playing an entirely different game with her. Terrifying!
Insidious Scale: 5/5
Insidious: Chapter 2 2013
More terrifying and twisted than Insidious, Chapter 2 dives into the devilish world beyond the grave to reveal the Lamberts' demonic affliction and effectively builds in unrelenting tension until the screen fades to black. The juxtaposition between the spirit realm and Lambert home combines otherworldly fright with slasher-film scares, conjuring up frightening scenes reminiscent of The Frighteners and The Shining alike, which will have viewers squirming in their seats and shielding their eyes as the terror unfolds.
Most Insidious Incident: Not to spoil the wicked fun, but there is an especially terrifying scene in an abandoned hospital. What is it about old, abandoned hospitals that are so damn scary?!
Insidious Scale: 4.5/5
To check out all the insidious moments yourself, be sure to grab your tickets to Insidious: Chapter 2.