Report Card - James Wan
On 'Report Card' I choose a director, usually one who has released a movie recently and grade their filmography on an "A+" to "F" scale. All of the film scores will be averaged for one final score for the director's work as a whole. It should be stated that this is my opinion and It's just for fun. If you agree or disagree, please comment below and I would love to have a conversation.
1. Saw (2004)
James Wan made his first mark on the horror genre with this low-budget torture fest. Whether you like it or not, it also triggered the emergence of what is known today as “torture porn”. The film is well-made and shot, though it’s nowhere near his best. ‘Saw’ was also a franchise starter and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the coming decades Jigsaw takes his place alongside Jason, Michael, Freddy and Leatherface.
2. Death Sentence (2007)
Wan’s second film, ‘Death Sentence’, was less a horror film and more a revenge thriller. I haven’t seen the film in quite a while, but I remember having a decent time with it. Kevin Bacon turned in a great performance and the action and tension was implemented well. My problem with this film was that, unlike ‘Saw’ it wasn’t particularly anything new. Plenty of films before this have had a similar story and told it better. Still, points are given for competent directing and a convincing performance from Kevin Bacon.
3. Dead Silence (2007)
‘Dead Silence’ came out the same year as ‘Death Sentence’ and began to tease some of James Wan’s unique scare-tactics that would come to full fruition later with ‘Insidious’ and ‘The Conjuring’. Apart from some creepy dolls and some legitimate jump-scares; the plot is poorly conceived and the characters are very one-dimensional. Overall, this film will give you a few creeps, but it won’t linger and you certainly won’t remember the story or characters.
4. Insidious (2011)
The first time I saw ‘Insidious’ in the theater, I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t been truly scared by a movie for years so I wasn’t expecting that to change. Well, it changed. This film scared the sh*t out of me. It’s not the type of film that gets under your skin and you can’t get out of your head for weeks, but while you’re watching it, it completely owns you. Wan mastered the slow-build and meaningful jump-scare with this film. Don’t worry, there are no jolts caused by cats in the shower, or relatives sneaking up from behind. This is where Wan truly began to spread his wings as a director.
5. The Conjuring (2013)
What can be said about ‘The Conjuring’ that hasn’t been said already. This is the highest quality horror release in years that’s actually been given some sort of budget. Sure, there are other horror films that have released in the past couple of years that I consider better, but none that have made as big of a footprint as ‘The Conjuring’. This is an important film for the genre because 1. WB trusted enough in Wan and he subsequently unleashed hell, and 2. It worked! The film was able to reach out to a huge audience and prove that there’s still a large market for horror if it’s done right. This movie also seems to have started the very first horror-themed cinematic universe. So far it’s spawned: Annabelle 1&2, The Conjuring 2, The Nun (in production), and a rumored Crooked Man film. Yes, ‘The Conjuring’ has something in common with Iron Man. As much praise as I’ve heaped upon this film, I actually don’t feel like it’s that revolutionary, it’s just incredibly well-shot and staged with the ‘70s setting really adding to the aesthetic. ‘The Conjuring’ is really just another exorcism movie, albeit a really good one.
6. Insidious 2
I have very mixed feelings about this film. For one; it embellishes on the lady in black in a cool way and makes that character all the more scary, but then the film does something that I absolutely hate: zipping into the past and neutering a good chunk of the scares from the first film. ‘Insidious 2’ basically reveals what caused all the bumps in the night from the first one. What made the original so scary was that you didn’t know what it was. Well, now you do, and guess what! It’s just the father bumbling around in the further. Great. On the flip-side, the film is shot very well, and though the story is convoluted, all of the actors are still invested in their roles and you care about them. This film’s not bad necessarily, it’s just disappointing that it felt the need to justify what was going on in the first one.
7. Furious 7
I knew that James Wan had ambitions outside of the horror genre, but this was the last thing I expected him to take on. Directing a ‘Fast and Furious’ film might not have been such an undertaking before the franchise decided to start being good with ‘Fast Five’ but two films later and we have one of the biggest and most dumbly fun series of action films. I would even argue that the latest ‘Furious’ films elevate the bad ones (2&4) into a realm of being more watchable. Well, James Wan certainly took the over-the-top torch and ran with it. The action in this film is balls-out crazy, and I was utterly floored that James Wan had such an eye for these types of sequences. While I don’t think it’s quite as good as 5 and 6, it’s happily holding hands with the original as tied for my third favorite. Also, the Paul Walker send-off could not have been handled better, that moment was perfection.
8. The Conjuring 2
‘The Conjuring 2’ cemented James Wan’s claim to the modern-day horror throne. Admittedly, there’s not many vying for the position, but even if there were, I think he still might be on top. I was probably the most worried about this film. With ‘Insidious 2’ being an underwhelming sequel and the well-known understanding that there are very seldom any good horror sequels, let alone just decent ones, Wan had a lot to prove. To my total surprise, I actually enjoyed ‘The Conjuring 2’ more than the first, though only marginally. Yes, I said it. The film had some problems that the first one didn’t, but it also did other things better than the original. The characters already having been established in the first were allowed to flourish, the practical effects were phenomenal and I found the demon in this one just as terrifying. Oh, and that nun, don’t get me started. I found the plot in this one a little more convoluted, and that’s a only time I missed the streamlined nature of the first. Overall though, this film proved that a horror sequel can be just as good if not better than the original.
James Wan has almost single-handedly revived the horror genre. I don’t think it ever would have died due to all of the success with micro-budget horrors, but it certainly wouldn’t have gotten this much mainstream attention. Though Wan got off to a bit of a shaky start trying to find his footing as a director, he is now flourishing. He’s the best in the current horror genre and one of the most interesting directors to follow as his career expands. I’m excited to see him work his wizardry in ‘Aquaman’ next and hope he keeps dipping back into the horror well every now and then to remind us what it feels like to be properly terrified.
Written by Rhys Paine on 7/21/2016