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James Wan’s Secret Ingredient for Successful Horror? He Doesn’t Have One

Posted 2021/05/21 10 0


James Wan has always proven that he has a gift for storytelling with his list of films in the horror genre. Comparatively, I’m sure we can all think of a time when we watched an unexpected low-budgeted horror film or book by which we found ourselves bored by how lackluster everything about it was. The terrible storytelling, the awful two-dimensional characters, or even the sound effects that didn’t lead to anything. Hopefully, a little helpful advice from the infamous horror director James Wan, can help encourage anyone out there struggling with their projects.

According to Wan, telling a horror story is a matter of being in the shoes of those who are going to experience the project, like a fan. And that is especially true with his new film The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which he helped curate and serves as a producer on after directing the first two installments in the franchise. Does he have a secret ingredient for a successful horror movie? The filmmaker offers this helpful advice.

RELATED: The Devil Made Me Do It Really Is the Darkest Conjuring Movie Yet Promises Director

“I don’t think there’s a secret ingredient. For me, I just wanna tell the stories that I wanna tell. I wanna tell the stories that I wanna watch, as an audience. If I had to put my finger on something, it’s telling stories with characters that people can relate to. I believe that’s why, whether it’s Insidious, or The Conjuring with Ed and Lorraine, it’s creating these characters that are really beloved, that they’re real people. Definitely in the case of Ed and Lorraine, which is based on real people.”

James Wan certainly would know about telling a great horror story, being famous for his horror franchises such as The Conjuring, Insidious, and even the more popular Saw series. A good horror movie tells a story of why everything is coming down upon its cast of victims. A great horror story does more than that. Setting up the creaking noises, the harrowing wind. The way a shadow moves across the hall once a victim realizes they are at the mercy of their killer.

Other times it can come from the heart-stopping moment that you realize the victim is about to die. You see a lot of that with Saw, where characters are set up to be taken out by a random trap. Horror is simple for some, but harder for others. Horror can’t just be about hacking and slashing without reason. I mean, sure, it could. Just as simple as someone using their iPhone to record a quick slasher movie

As James said, telling a good horror story or any story for that matter, is also about using characters that are relatable. I’ve heard of some writers taking inspiration from real-life stories of homicidal events. It’s just like the quote from DC comics Joker, “There’s no difference between me and everyone else. All it takes is one bad day.” Anyone familiar with this line knows where it leads. It’s the good spin on how your entire world can fall apart if something terrible happens to you that you didn’t see coming. One day your the nicest guy in the office, but the other guy got the promotion you worked hard to earn. The rest of your life spirals down the tube and you have far less to live for. Like someone took your hopes and dreams and shattered them.

When a great horror story starts off like this then leads into the slow breakdown of the character’s dissension into madness, that’s when you want to see the victims coming into this person’s territory, unaware of the trap they’re stepping into. We can all relate to being overwhelmed or overlooked. We can all relate to being terrified to die at least at one point or another in our lives. So, as James Wan pointed out, if you are ever going to create a horror story, don’t just create any story. Make sure that your characters have a motive. Makes sure that they are relatable to the audience that your story is targeted for.

Sometimes you just have to forgo any plans that you thought you’d use to make a great story. When something doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. So, even for those stories that aren’t based in the horror genre, try considering how your characters are relatable. Consider what you would do if you were in their shoes. Your always free to tell the stories that you want to tell, but great stories come from studying your audiences. If your ever unsure of your ideas, maybe it’s time to take a step back and see if your work is something that you’d want to read or watch yourself. You can catch James Wan’s next horror project, Malignant, in theaters this fall. This news originated from, with quotes pulled from a recent press conference.


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