Rewatching Insidious recently had me thinking about the way director James Wan started off his career with Saw, a proto-torture porn/extreme horror entry that’s consciously–if ineptly–Fincherian and non-supernatural; he’s done plenty of horror since then as both a director and producer, but he’s mostly made his subsequent reputation on classic supernatural chillers like Insidious and The Conjuring. Moving from “gritty provocateur” to “old-fashioned craftsman” in the same genre isn’t a huge leap, but it’s still a significant recalibration of ambition and reputation. Was Saw a slightly bloodied calling card to get Wan to the films he really wanted to make, or was it a genuine interest that later faded out in place of something new? Did he effectively split into a horror filmmaker and a separate action filmmaker (Aquaman, Furious 7)?
The Dissolve Podcast (RIP) once had a discussion on directors, actors, and screenwriters who made hard and permanent left turns in their work and became known for styles or subjects very different from those they started off with. Discussion topics included Kenneth Branagh, James Mangold, Ridley Scott, David O. Russell, Gus Van Sant, John Singleton, and David Gordon Green. Who would you add to that list, and why do you think they made the adjustments they did? Did we get better art from them because of that change? And is there anyone you wish would lean hard into one aspect of their career, steering themselves into new directions?