James Wan is one of those directors who really, really knows how to make you nervous. Since 2004, this Australian director has treated us to some of the most successful horror films of the Millennium. He is also a rarity in the sense that he's a horror director with the ability to branch outside of the genre and create dynamic action, as well. While his name might not ring strongly with casual, blockbuster fans, he is rising in popularity and has involved himself in a lot of future projects such as Aquaman, MacGyver, and Mortal Kombat.
Although he is beginning to branch outside of the horror genre, he is still an active influence within the genre. In addition to the release of The Conjuring 2, he is involved as a producer for Insidious: Chapter 4, Annabelle 2, and the full-length adaptation of Lights Out. Wan's long term partnership with fellow Australian, Leigh Whannell, has also managed to spark two massive horror franchises, #Saw and #Insidious.
With this article, we will focus on the career of James Wan by ranking his directorial efforts. I feel the need to remind you that despite the large amount of films he has been involved in since 2004, he has only directed a total of 8 full-length films. He is currently working on #DCEU installment for #Aquaman, and had even been offered The Flash, but we won't see the end result of his comic book work until 2018.
8. Dead Silence (2007)
Wan's first post-Saw film was this attempt at telling a creepy doll story. While his 2013 film, The Conjuring, spawned a spin-off about the possessed Annabelle doll, Dead Silence told the story of a ventriloquist dummy named Billy. While the doll is quite creepy looking on its own, it sadly didn't have a solid story to back it up.
Many feel that James Wan should have just stayed with a good thing and continued on and directed Saw II in 2005, but he decided to pursue other projects. It's pretty unfortunate that Dead Silence was his first film outside of the Saw universe. It comes across as cliche full of unsuccessful, cheap scares and some pretty horrible dialogue. It's easily his least successful film to date.
7. Death Sentence (2007)
It's became obvious at this point that James Wan didn't want to just be known as the guy who directed Saw. Dead Silence failed to gather a bigger audience so he tried to create something completely different with Death Sentence. This is a pretty basic revenge story with a morality clause, but it comes across as overblown.
With Death Sentence, you're treated to pretty graphic scenes of dismemberment and very intense violence. Although it did have an A-list cast including Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, and Aisha Tyler, it comes across as nothing but a basic B-movie action dump. The lackluster reception for Death Sentence and the failure of Dead Silence, it's fair to say that 2007 wasn't Wan's best year.
6. Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
While Insidious may have taken audiences to another level of creativity, the sequel didn't quite have the same touch. Insidious: Chapter 2 brought us back to the Lambert family, but it didn't quite hold the same level of intensity or creativity. A main complaint about this sequel was the fact that Wan exercised a frequent amount of jump scares that he doesn't usually use.
In addition to the addition of meaningless jump scares, it leads many to think that this was just an obvious move by the studios and maybe not even an inspired story by James Wan. Insidious: Chapter 2 was also James Wan's first attempt at a sequel and it didn't seem to go too well. Although he didn't return to direct Insidious: Chapter 3, he stayed on as an executive producer. He is also not returning to direct Insidious: Chapter 4 due in 2017.
5. Furious 7 (2015)
There were a lot of confused people when it was announced that James Wan was directing the seventh installment of the #FastAndFurious franchise, but those of us who had been paying attention to his career knew that he had a lot of potential. Unexpected and unfortunate matters aside, Wan managed to bring together a fantastic film with Furious 7 and it served as somewhat of a breakthrough for him because it proved he isn't just a horror director.
Furious 7 is a rather predictable offering as far as the Fast and Furious films go, but the cinematography, choreography, and direction the film contains is really a James Wan trademark. He handled action sequences quite well and the vision he brings to anything he touches is really a beautiful thing to witness. His success with Furious 7 is said to be a main reason he was brought on board to direct Warner Bros.' Aquaman.
4. Insidious (2010)
Wan returned to the director's chair three years after Death Sentence with this thrilling story about a boy taken from our reality into the realm of his dreams. For me personally, Insidious was the turning point for James Wan as it brought him out of an arena of jarring visual cues and gore into a world where he uses subtlety and unusual vessels to scare us. Wan has proven himself to be a master when it comes to building tension and making the audience incredibly nervous.
Even with all of that said, I can admit that Insidious is one of those movies you either love or hate. I have friends who are big fans of James Wan who hated Insidious for it's somewhat childish third act, but there is no denying how the slow burn concept of this film definitely made its mark. You also could mark this as a precursor to the sleep paralysis phenom that films like The Nightmare have touched on. The idea of being indefinitely asleep with no idea why is quite scary when you sit down and think about it.
3. The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The Conjuring 2 is James Wan's latest film and similar to his best horror offerings, it really delivers something special. This film serves as the sequel to the 2013 film, The Conjuring, and tells another story from the case files of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. Although the story of the "Enfield Poltergeist" was no secret, Wan yet again uses a shockingly accurate approach to the story of this haunting. As he did with the first film, he worked closely with Lorraine Warren as well as Janet and Margaret Hodgson to ensure as much accuracy as possible.
Similar to the first installment, The Conjuring 2 brings an extremely level of tension, suspense, and unsettling imagery. Although I don't think it was quite as good as its predecessor, I do have to commend the film and James Wan for what it brought to the table. It utilizes a bit more shock value and unexpected scares than most other Wan films, but it oddly worked in this case. The Conjuring 2 definitely deserves to be in the top three.
2. The Conjuring (2013)
This is a controversial choice as many of my fellow horror fans would consider The Conjuring to be Wan's best work. While I agree that it's a spectacular piece of work, it barely gets edged out for the #1 spot. What James Wan did with this true story of a family's haunting was chilling, suspenseful, and visually stunning. It has already been ranked by many as a modern horror classic.
What was done right with #TheConjuring is it depended on genuine suspense and discomfort rather than cheap scares and unexpected jumps. It gained an R-rating for simply being terrifying which is quite rare for the modern horror genre.It even came with a warning displayed outside of screenings for simply being too scary. The fact that James Wan worked with the real Perron family as well as Lorraine Warren to create this story on film brings another level of fright that can only be brought by Wan.
1. Saw (2004)
James Wan's feature film debut came with this 2004 horror release; a release which spawned a seven film franchise that became the highest grossing horror franchise in cinematic history. Saw was picked up by Lionsgate after Wan and his creative partner, Leigh Whannell, made a 9-minute short film featuring the iconic "reverse bear trap" device. Although Wan only directed the first film, he stayed on as an executive producer for all seven films and witnessed his career skyrocket after the debut of this original horror concept.
What sets Saw apart from the rest of the modern genre was not only its simplistic film style, but the fact that it actually had a deep plot that required your full attention. The morality aspect of the story featured individuals being tested on their will to live and their willingness to face their demons in order to save themselves or someone else. Not to mention Saw contains one of the best twist endings of the horror genre. I will never forget seeing it in the theater for the first time and having my jaw drop to the floor.