Yesterday I saw the seventh installment of The Fast and Furious in theaters. Normally, I’m really not one for action films. They just don’t appeal to me, although I do make exceptions for superhero films. In all honesty, I haven’t watched any of the previous six Fast and Furious films, and I didn’t think I needed to to understand this one. (And I was right on that front.) In fact, I could have gone my whole life without watching a single film from the franchise, and been no more or less happy for doing so. But, I made an exception. Why, you ask? Well, all for this gentleman here:
Ladies and gentlemen, if you do not immediately recognize this man, then may I introduce you to the inimitable James Wan. He’s directed a number of big Hollywood films, but he’s probably best known for his work on Saw (the first one only), Insidious (both the original and the sequel), and The Conjuring.
Since I spent the last post completely fangirling about Saw and everyone/everything associated with it, I won’t waste your time telling you how important this man and his body of work are to me. But, some of you may be wondering, what is Mr. Wan doing directing an action film? I’ll remind you that a while ago he talked about leaving horror films for good. He wanted to still write them, sure, but he just lost all interest in directing them. I, like many horror fans, was saddened by this news, as he is definitely one of the best young horror directors working in Hollywood. Luckily, only a few months after that announcement, he took it back, and he slated to direct The Conjuring 2 and (potentially!!!) a new Saw film.
Naturally, I wondered why he seriously thought about leaving horror to direct action films, only to return to horror months later. Well, after watching Furious 7 I think I understand why.
Let me start by saying that I always found it funny that Wan is going to be associated with the Saw franchise. Saw, as I have stated in the past, is essentially the modern take on slasher films. However, that only started with Saw II. The first film in the series plays more like a psychological thriller, and only gets kinda gory in the final scene where (spoilers for a 11 year-old film!) Dr. Gordon saws off his leg. It was actually Darren Lynn Bousman, director of Saw II-IV that determined the pace and direction of a Saw film. Wan’s approach to directing is more more methodical, measured, and overall more focused on technique. He builds up scenes slowly and and deliberately to make the audience feel ill-at-ease, and then delivers a precisely timed scare. He also likes to show off every now and again with really impressive camera work. If you want to get an idea of what I’m talking about, watch The Conjuring, as I feel it’s the best example of how he works as a director.
With this in mind, after seeing Furious 7, I think I understand why he wanted to do action films. Watching the movie, which is itself incredibly cheesy and pretty much everything you’d expect it to be, I see Wan using a lot of similar camera techniques and shots that he used in his horror films. The main difference is that he doesn’t have to worry about all that “build up” nonsense as much. If he wants to make the camera move and orient itself with the action, he can do that in literally any action scene. If he wants to spin the camera around characters for no reason, he can get away with it. Basically, he used this break from horror to really experiment and let loose with any and every technique he wanted to use. And he seems to have had a LOT of fun with it.
So, how did he do as an action director? Actually, he did pretty darn well. He adapted his techniques pretty well to the genre. It’s nothing super amazing or ground-breaking, but he did a good job on it nonetheless. The action-tracking camera work in particular translated very well to the action genre, and Wan does it so smoothly that you really get to appreciate all the choreography that goes into each action sequence.
…. That said, I’m still happy he’s coming back to horror.