While I’ve seen and liked plenty of horror movies, I would never call myself a “horror fan.” That’s an intense and self-selecting group. Yet even as a non-horror fan, it’s hard not to notice that horror often feels like the only genre that still has artful compositions and classical suspense building. It’s a genre frequently (and usually fairly) maligned for a lack of creativity in terms of premises (I like to say that it’s always about a haunted house or a creepy little kid). But, or maybe partly because of that, horror filmmakers seem to take much more care, and pleasure, in the craft of execution.
And maybe that’s partly why horror is arguably the last genre in which independent films with low-budgets can still become breakout hits.
Leigh Whannell knows a little something about that. Film school buddies with James Wan in Australia at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Whannell collaborated with Wan, writing the original Saw short that Wan directed, for which Whannell says he spent $7,000 of his own money, which he’d earned working in television.
“What’s funny is that $7,000 was supposed to be the budget for the [full-length] movie,” Whannell told Uproxx. “The feature, the garage version. I spent all of it, and we shot this short on 16 millimeter. So you could say I ended up spending the entire budget of the film on this 11-minute short.”
Saw eventually became a feature, starring Danny Glover and Cary Elwes, which went on to spawn seven sequels. Clearly, Whannell’s $7,000 bet had paid off. Wan and Whannell went on to launch the Insidious franchise, which in turn metastasized into another four installments. That’s a solid track record for anyone, and you might expect Whannell to end up getting paid big bucks to write or direct the latest installment of an already-established franchise. But that doesn’t seem to be what drives him.
Instead, this month Whannell, a long-time screenwriter on Wan’s films and others, is back with Upgrade, his second feature as a director (after Insidious: Chapter 3). And it isn’t really a horror movie this time around.