“You don’t need an 18-rating for a film to be filled with doom…” hmv.com talks to Insidious 3 director Leigh Whannell
Insidious: Chapter 3 opens today (June 5), and while many elements from the first two films remain – malevolent spirits, Lin Shaye as spiritualist Elise Rainier, and Joseph Bishara’s tense score among them – there are notable changes to the fright film franchise.
First, the director of the first two films, James Wan, is gone, having left low-budget horror filmmaking to join Hollywood’s A-list directing this spring’s blockbuster, with writer and co-star Leigh Whannell directing Chapter 3. Second, the Lambert family has been replaced by the Brenners whose daughter is being terrorized by a supernatural entity called The Man Who Can’t Breathe.
Insidious: Chapter 3 is Whannell’s directorial debut. The Australian first gained notoriety co-creating the Saw franchise with Wan and was offered the chance to direct when Wan walked away. Calling from Los Angeles, Whannell spoke to hmv.com about writing Insidious: Chapter 3, its monster, relying on mood over gore, and Insidious: Chapter 4.
How much of Insidious: Chapter 3 is reverse-engineered from the first two films, in the way that 2 was reverse-engineered from 1?
“I think one led to the other. I think first came the idea that I really wanted to focus on Lin Shaye. When I realized that the Lambert family weren’t going to be the focus, I wanted some connective tissue to the other films, and I think Lin is the best connective tissue. She is a beloved character and a great actress I love working with.
“But then when I solidified her as the main character I knew that I wanted her to be alive. So she turned it into a prequel. It was almost by virtue of using Lin it became a prequel, because if it’s not a prequel, Lin is dead. Unfortunately for us we killed her off in the first film. If we knew then what we knew now, we might not have killed her; we would have kept her alive. But we wrote ourselves into a corner; we killed her off. And I just didn’t want ‘ghost Lin’ so it became a prequel.”
The monster in this film is The Man Who Can’t Breathe. Will he inspire empathy or is he completely evil?
“I think he’s kind of an unknowable monster. I didn’t want to explore his back story. I think a lot of times empathy comes from a sense of understanding. We look at someone and they may be doing something wrong but we understand why. ‘This person became a serial killer because they were abused when they were younger.’ While we may not agree with the crimes that they have committed and find them abhorrent, we can at least sympathize with a childhood of abuse.
“With this character I didn’t really go into that. I made a decision to make the character very unknowable and distant. He’s that blur you see in your peripheral vision, the monster that is lurking behind you that don’t know anything about. But it’s there and it’s coming for you.”
The Insidious films don’t rely on spilling blood to get scares. Why is that?
“We set a precedent for that and it’s hard to break that precedent. As you know, once studios have created a franchise, they get locked into that model and that template. They wanted a PG-13 film, and I said, ‘OK, I’ll deliver one.’
“But the Insidious brand, it’s not to do with R-rated (18 rated in UK terms) gore or violence; it’s to do with those chills. And what I tried to do was make a film that felt very oppressive and violent and dark in the way that an R-rated film would be but somehow slot it into that rating. And I think I’ve achieved that. I mean, from feedback I’ve heard I think the film does have a very oppressive atmosphere, and I guess it’s proof that you don’t necessarily have to have an R-rating for a film to be very oppressive and sort of filled with doom."
Will there be an Insidious: Chapter 4?
“I don’t know yet about Insidious: Chapter 4. That’s a tough question because 3 hasn’t come out yet. So I’m wary as to where the franchise is going to go next. But I can say that I really did like directing and I really want to do it again. The biggest thing for me is the story. I guess you could call that an obvious statement. I think a lot of directors who don’t write their own material maybe come to directing through visual modes. For me it’s all about the story.”