This list is a some sort of tribute to James Wan, whom I now consider to be our days true master of horror. Many people have acknowledged Ti West these days, but he has not been able to create the same track record as James Wan. Wan has created genuinely creepy, thrilling and brilliant films for several years now.
Be aware that I'm just rambling in my notes. This is not supposed to be an essay or anything like that. And also be aware that some things might sound strange, which will have to do with English not being my first language.
"Most people are so ungrateful to be alive, but not you, not any more."
Collaborating with his pal, Leigh Whannell, Wan sat the basics for Saw in a short film the year before with the same name. The year later he expanded upon that idea and created this film. His feature film debut.
Most people would disregard Saw for spawning six sequels and being partly responsible for creating the genre known as torture porn. A genre that seems to displease a lot of people. Me on the other hand, I do enjoy a some good (or even decent or slightly bad) torture porn. James Wan's Saw, while not my personal favourite of them (that's Saw II), is a prime example of to create a masterpiece in the genre. And that without being particularly gory. The goriest scene is someone sawing of his leg.
While Saw is never truly a film that will have you stay awake at night with you lights turned on (a feat Wan achieved with other films, in slightly different genres, which I will return to eventually) Saw is still a terrifying experience. Wan obviously drew inspiration from the master of thrillers David Fincher and his Se7en, but instead of turning Saw into a bland copycat, he presented us to a film that shocks, scares, slightly disgusts and fascinates us in many ways.
Saw manages to fascinate me because it's about more than showing gut-wrenching scenes. It involves the viewer straightly into the situation and as him. What would yo do? Would you kill someone to save yourself? Saw of your leg? Cut yourself several times? Or would you just take the easy way out and pick a quick death? The moral dilemmas are absolutely present here. Live or die. Make your choice.
James Wan also created a villain that has turned out to be a true horror horror icon. While the later Saw films certainly played a huge part in establishing Jigsaw up there on the horror shelf alongside Michael Myers, Jason and Freddy Krueger. Wan perfectly managed to create an ice cold murderer (who's technically not a murderer), and he did it by barely showing the villain at all during the film. By having the film in some way play out as a "cops trying to hunt down a serial killer" type of film, we slowly learn more about the mysterious killer. A killer who in some ways come across as an anti-hero. He takes the people many would call the scum of the earth and places them in traps that's either supposed to cure them or kill them. The choice does naturally fall on the deserved victims. This is an unique way terminate people and is why Jigsaw his now a legend in the horror culture.
Saw is in my eyes a perfect film. A brilliantly crafted horror film, both plot wise and viscerally. James Wan couldn't have made a better debut and with this film he unquestionably established himself as a talent to be followed.
"Beware the stare of Mary Shaw / She had no children only dolls / And if you see her in your dreams / Be sure to never ever scream."
I'm willing to bet my very small amount of money that I'm not the only one who is terrified by dolls, particularly those damn ventriloquist dolls. Please tell me that those things are not what nightmares are made off. James Wan obviously knew that dolls creep me the fuck out and decided to take his first step into ghost horror, a genre he obviously knows very well how to handle. Dead Silence is the first film that scared me shitless. Which is why I haven't dared to see it in many years. It really had me scared.
Dead Silences rating doesn't really justify the amount of impact it had on me. It's only given a 7/10 because it did have some minor flaws, but I'm not going to address them this time. They might even be gone if I decide to re-watch this film soon.
While Saw certainly was atmospheric in its own way, Dead Silence truly showcased James Wan's ability to create atmospheric horror films. I would state that anyone who watches horror films would agree with me that atmosphere is a key ingredient when it comes to creating a horror film. Wan nailed the atmosphere in this film. The mood, the visuals, the music and the creepy plot are all jigsaw pieces that fits perfectly in Wan's attempt at an atmospheric horror film.
But in order to truly succeed, you need to take that atmosphere and produce genuine scares out of it. Wan does that, certainly he might use some cheap jump scares, but when they are effectively used to unleash the atmosphere that's more than forgiving. It's necessary and worthy of applause. It's frightening. Dead Silence uses its atmosphere to produce several scenes that are terrifyingly scary. Which is what horror films are supposed to do. They're supposed to scare you and Dead Silence deliver the goods.
"It's not the house that is haunted. It's your son."
James Wan took everything he did great with Dead Silence and perfected it, while getting rid of the flaws. Insidious is a masterful horror film, and quite possibly the best horror film I've seen in recent years. With this film, and Wan's previous work, as well judging by the hype of his upcoming work, this is what makes him the new master of horror. Insidious is simply perfection from one end to another. Never have I been so much scared before. It took several years from Dead Silence until I was remotely scared by a horror film again, and it just so happened to be James Wan who did it again. Insidious is horrible. In a good way.
Naturally, Insidious is as atmospheric as it possibly can be. James Wan has perfected his visuals and knows how to blend it with creepy and unsettling music. Wan has also an unique sense of showing disturbing and scary images that manages to burn their way into my head. There are still single moments in Insidious that haunts me. He takes the atmosphere he has build up and releases it in the form of these scary images. Sometimes as well-placed jump scares or in the form of unsettling things happening in the background. He's ingeniously effective in the way he manages to creep me out, rarely wasting any moment, never giving me the chance to let me remove my hands from my face.
To quote a brilliant reviewer on listal, PvtCaboose91, in his review of Insidious. "Insidious can be likened to a funhouse ride in a theme park, as the film takes its audience on a tour full of creepy images and spooky things which pop out at them, and the terror refuses to alleviate until the ride is over". This is very much true and probably a cause for my terror as well. I got extremely scared in a horror funhouse when I was a little kid. Anyway, after the first unsettling and creepy half of the film, James Wan turns the last half into a true nightmare where you share the same fear as the characters in the film. Everything is completely frightening all the way through.
And if there's one thing James Wan does know how to do it's endings. He's a master of twist ending. From the shocking reveal of who Jigsaw is in Saw to Dead Silences jaw-dropping final moment, and then to the last minutes of Insidious. Just when you think you're safe, Wan pulls the rug under your feet.
"You have a lot of spirits in here, but there is one I'm most worried about because it is so hateful."
The Conjuring doesn't manage to create the same amount of terror as James Wan's previous film, Insidious, but he has nonetheless crafted a horror film that's extremely good. This first and foremost a genuinely creepy and effectively scary film that manages to stay away from a lot of cheap scares, instead focusing on creating real old-school horror. James Wan has an eye for creating spooky imagery, and thanks to his talent, The Conjuring is full of scenes that can keep most people awake at night.
But The Conjuring is also exceptionally well-made in absolutely every department. The acting is a whole shelf above what we usually find in horror films, with excellent actors delivering outstanding performances as well-crafted characters. It's also brilliantly shot. It looks very good, and on a technical level, this is a masterpiece when it comes to horror films.
One thing worth mentioning about Wan is how he manages to take what's seemingly a very traditional horror story and then to turn it into something extraordinary, which he has done with The Conjuring. The haunted house tale has been done to death so many times, that it takes a true genius to be able to surprise us. Wan is that genius. His craftsmanship is able to take an ordinary story and turn it into something that gives us the creeps.
"I know what happened. I went in that place to get our son back and something evil followed me, who killed Elise."
The sequel to the terrifying Insidious is not as insanely, constantly scary as its predecessor was. But James Wan has nonetheless managed to craft an extremely spooky horror film that gives the viewer an unsettling and creepy feeling throughout its entire running time.
While Wan doesn't manage to craft the same amount of terror that made Insidious a modern horror masterpiece, he keeps on improving himself as a filmmaker. Insidious: Chapter 2 is very well-made. It's basically flawless from every technical aspect, it's well-shot, outstandingly acted and it's story is, quite surprisingly, very sharp. This chapter has in some ways replaced scares with a much more fascinating story, one that seeks to explore more of the world that was created in the first film. And as we get deeper and deeper into "The Further", the film's atmosphere only gets spookier. It's an extremely well-told story, specially for a horror film.
Wan has already established himself as a master when it comes to creating creepy images that's likely to stick with you for a while, and he does so again, even if it not as often, with Chapter 2. He's also one of those few directors that manages to rightly use jump scares, making them effective when they occur. Making sure that we do get some scares in a film that's really more about atmosphere and storytelling than full nightmare-terror.