YRB Magazine Interview: Director James Wan

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After making his wildly successful directorial debut with the low-budget horror film Saw, young director James Wan returns with Death Sentence, a revenge-thriller about a family man (Kevin Bacon) who takes matters into his own hands after his son is murdered. I caught up with Wan to discuss Death Sentence and his approach to filmmaking, and here’s what he had to say.


Q: Tell us about the basic story behind Death Sentence.
Kevin Bacon plays a father whose path crosses with a street gang when his son is murdered in an initiation killing, and in a fit of rage and in the heat of passion he makes a mistake and goes after one of the people that was responsible. I describe the film as a revenge tragedy – it just spirals out of control. It’s not an outright revenge movie from start to finish. The first half of the film plays more like a thriller, while you watch this normal, everyday, white-collar guy just slowly losing control over the world that he knows, and getting caught up in a world that is very opposite his own. It’s basically a story about two different families when worlds collide – you have the family of the gang and the suburban family of Kevin Bacon. It really is a moral tale. He does what he does but he ends up paying dearly for it. ‘How far would you go to protect your family?’ If I was the marketing guy, that would be the tagline.

Q: You’re best known for making horror films. Why did you decide to switch it up?
A: I was really starting to be pigeonholed as a guy who only makes horror films, and that is so not me. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a movie fan as opposed to just a horror fan, and I felt like the revenge-thriller genre was a good stepping stone for me to try something different and concentrate more on the drama of an everyday life, performances and all that stuff, and I got the opportunity to work with a lot of really good actors. I wanted to show another side.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
The best advice I can give would be things I experienced myself, and I say the best thing one should retain is naivety. When you’re young and stupid and you don’t know any better, you just go and do it; you don’t let anyone discourage you, you just follow your heart. You should do what you believe in – just go for it. Especially in today’s world, where studios and producers are willing to take chances on young, up-and-coming directors.

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