Despite Insidious: Chapter 3 being his first directing gig, Leigh Whannell managed to make the film feel exactly like the previous ones in this trilogy, showing how much he learned with fellow Saw screenwriter and director James Wan.
Going into production, “there was nervousness because I was directing,” says Whannell. “I was nervous about the film living up to the first two movies. Stepping into James’ shoes is a nerve wracking thing, because he’s a real master of modern horror. And doing it right after he’s done The Conjuring, where he reached his pinnacle, I was like ‘OK, what do I do?’ but I tried to just focus on making the film super scary and everyone seems super happy with it.”
On being the director, writer and an actor in Insidious: “it was a strange feeling to be acting in a scene,” says Whannell. “As a director, you’re supposed to be stomping around, projecting some sort of image of leadership.” If you’ve seen any of the Insidious films, you know Specs, the character Whannell plays, is a nerdy, silly guy; quite the opposite of an authority figure. “I didn’t even know it was you for a minute,” Lin Shaye, the psychic Elise, jokes. “There’s this little guy beside me with glasses and bent over and then I realize ‘oh my god that’s my director.’”
For Shaye, as the lead of Insidious, there was definitely a change on the way she handled Elise. “It was a big responsibility for me to fulfill the beginnings of this franchise,” says Shaye. “James said to me at one point after the second movie, ‘if we go further, I’d love to make Elise the face of the franchise’, which was staggering, because I’m an unlikely heroine. It’s not a character you’d ordinarily see as a lead or an attractive element on a film, which was what happened. People really liked Elise from the first film and they wanted more.”
The idea of leaving the Lamberts was the first thing on Whannell’s mind, when creating Insidious: Chapter 3. “They’ve taken enough of a beating,” the director jokes. “It’d be ridiculous to make them haunted… again.” That’s how he decided to start working on something fresh. “But if I’m working on a new family, what would connect them to the other Insidious films?” Thinking about Elise’s character, Whannell decided to explore her past as a medium. “Unfortunately we killed her off in the first movie, so if we wanted to find out more about her life, we had to go back in time.”
As we go back in Elise’s life, we also get to see how her relationship begun with Specs and Tucker, her tech helpers. “That’s one of the little things fans of the first two films will get a kick out of. Specs and Tucker are like sons to her, she feels protective and maternal towards them,” says Whannell. “As goofy as they are, they really help me. I loved the way it [their relationship] developed.” remarks Shaye.
Ultimately, it was Whannell’s passion for horror that brought him back to another Insidious. “It’s a genre that’s very fun to watch an audience watch,” he says. “If you’ve ever been involved with a horror film, there’s no better feeling in the world than to stand on the back or front of a theatre and look at the audience. The reaction is so visceral it’s fun to watch and to be responsible for that. It’s a feeling of power. There’s that scene on Hitchcock, the movie, where he’s listening to the audience watch Psycho and he’s conducting, knowing exactly when they’re going to scream. Hitchcock’s the ultimate puppeteer, he loved manipulating people and I think that’s where horror plays upon.”
Shaye also points out how horror benefits from being watched at theatres. “Going to the movies will never die, there’s something special about it, which is amplified by the horror genre. Going to a big dark space with strangers and being pummeled in a way as a community with everybody screaming, (…) it’s just a safe place to be scared,” she says. “Laughing and screaming are communal experiences. They work better on a crowd,” Whannell agrees.
Read our review of the film here.