It's a strange place, the comfort zone. On the one hand, there is the eponymous promise of comfort; the safety of knowing a given task is within one's particular skill set. On the other hand, if no artist ever ventured outside of their comfort zone, some of history's greatest works would not exist. This is especially true of the medium of film. And yet, whenever news breaks of a filmmaker shifting gears and taking on something that resides outside of their wheelhouse, the default reactionary state is dread.
Case in point, the announcement that would be helming Furious 7, the next entry in The Fast and the Furious franchise. There's no denying that James Wan is a filmmaker more immediately associated with the horror genre than with action. Hell, the guy has had two haunted house movies, his specialty, hit theaters this year: The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2. He has proven especially adept at creating ominous atmospheres, building classic suspense, and balancing jumps with the more substantial lingering scares.
While those are tremendous assets for the horror genre, and indeed set Wan apart in that field, they don't tend to translate to something as high-octane and progressively more gleefully silly as The Fast and the Furious films. In fact, the closest Wan has ever come to directing an action film was 2007's Death Sentence, which was really more of a violent thriller than something as smashmouth and spectacular as any given F&F film. The consternation many have over Wan shifting genre gears is compounded by the fact that has been in the driver's seat since 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and is credited with restoring life to what appeared to be a franchise on its way to the junkyard.
But despite all doubts, some inherent perhaps, James Wan is a highly appropriate choice to take over this film series. I could sit here and bore you with famous examples of filmmakers transcending genres to stellar results. I could mention moving away from horror to do a little sci-fi comedy called Big Trouble in Little China or moving away from cerebral dramas to helm one of the most acclaimed and respected superhero movies of all time. But in the case of Wan taking over for Furious 7, there is a far more specific and personal basis for his aptness for the gig. In fact, directing Fast 7 will poignantly bring Wan's career full circle.
Let's travel back in time for a moment. There are two leaps to be made in this game of temporal hopscotch; the first to the year 2004. James Wan directs Saw, a film about a madman who chains the ankles of two men to a pipe and forces them to decide whether they'd rather cut through their feet with a hacksaw or suffer a far worse fate. The movie launched Wan's career and set the standard for studio horror films for nearly a decade. This will represent the first point on the Wan continuum.
Now we venture back further, all the way to 1979. James Wan was all of two years old when 's Mad Max was released. Mad Max may have been overshadowed by its Road Warrior sequel, but most people still remember the car chases, the villain, and a baby-faced Mel Gibson still sporting his Aussie accent. What might be harder to recall is the film's final scene. No, not the antagonist getting kissed by the grill of a truck, but rather the epilogue. In it, Max has come across the last of Toecutter's gang, scavenging through a fatal car crash, and devises quite the severe punishment for him. Max forces the creep to cuff his ankle to the wreckage, which is leaking fuel, places an open lighter near the approaching stream of gasoline, and tosses the creep a hacksaw. Max tells him that while the cuff chains are made of steel, he may have enough time to saw through his own foot before the car explodes.
So it's clear that the entirety of the Saw franchise is predicated upon the ending of Mad Max. The fuel-injected adrenaline of Miller's progenitor road rage film is obviously a chromosome of Wan's creative DNA. So no, I don't see it as a tremendous stretch that he would be directing the next Fast and the Furious movie. The prominent link between the Mad Max and Fast & Furious franchises is unabashed vehicular mayhem. Given the skyrocketing lunacy of the last few Fast & Furious movies, George Miller might as well be, at the very least, a producer. Plus, comparisons have already been drawn between the two series' shared penchant for carsploitation. In an Indiewire article earlier this year, Drew Taylor said of 2009's Fast & Furious, "the best part is a prologue set in the Dominic Republic with Dom and his crew hijacking a fuel tanker that’s like something out of one of the Mad Max movies."
James Wan may be known to most movie-goers as a "horror guy," but even the roots of his celebrated arrival to the horror genre are intertwined with the greatest gearhead movie franchise of all time. His hiring for Fast 7 is therefore entirely appropriate, as is the fact that its production will apparently overlap with that of Mad Max: Fury Road.