Interview with Insidious' Leigh Whannell
James Gilmore goes dark and deep with the director of Insidious: Chapter 3
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Insidious: Chapter 3 is the darkest Insidious chapter and takes audiences back to the very beginning.
In this prequel, teenage aspiring actress Quinn Brenner (played by Stefanie Scott) senses that her late mother is trying to contact her, and seeks out a gifted psychic – Elise (played by Lin Shaye).
Forced to venture deep into The Further to protect Quinn, Elise soon finds herself facing off against the most ruthless enemy she has ever encountered: a demon with an insatiable craving for human souls.
James Gilmore caught up with Leigh Whannell (who makes his directorial debut in Insidious 3, although he has written the past two alongside Saw and Dead Silence) to talk more about Chapter 3.
James Gilmore: The ‘Insidious’ Saga is extremely successful and very well known. Because of the success of the past two films did you feel an element of pressure when directing this one?
Leigh Whannell: I definitely did. I felt pressure to live up to the other films and I also felt pressure to step into James Wan’s shoes. I really think James is a master of modern horror films, if you’ve seen The Conjuring or the first two ‘‘Insidious’’ films, he really has perfected his brand of horror and so I felt that pressure that people would say “Clearly James is the talented one because Leigh’s version is crap”. Obviously I didn’t want that to happen, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so I definitely had that voice in my ear the whole time whilst I was shooting this film.
James Gilmore: You’ve written a lot of the films that James [Wan] has directed, for this film in particular did he give you any help with this being your first directing role?
Leigh Whannell: He was very busy doing ‘Furious 7’, this huge budget movie he was doing and they’re very demanding as you could imagine. He couldn’t give me a lot of face time on this film but he was always there, I could text him, he came to the set a couple of times. I even wrangled him into playing a cameo role in the film which was fun! Just yelling at him as a Director was so cathartic for me; it was like it had been building up! I just enjoyed knowing he was there; his physical presence wasn’t even needed. It was enough to know that he was a call or a text away and he really left me to my own devices. It was almost what he didn’t do that was amazing for me because he didn’t crowd me, he didn’t try to tell me what to do or boss me around. He really let me do my thing and it was a real vote of confidence that he let me do that.
James Gilmore: Has there ever been something that you’ve written and you’ve just sat back and though, god that’s so messed up?
Leigh Whannell: Yes, when I was writing some of the Saw movies, especially the sequels that I wrote (Saw 2 and Saw 3), there were definitely moments that I would sit back and be like, “I do this for a living?”. When you’re thinking up ways to tear someone’s arms off and make them eat them, or something like that – I think it can be quite disconcerting and I think that’s why I had to stop writing Saw films: I couldn’t think up any more ways to dismember somebody.
James Gilmore: It’s lucky you say that you feel a bit disconcerted by it because that’s exactly what I feel when I watch them [Saw]! I love the Saw series but you do think, “What the hell are these people?” Equally, I imagine your internet history when writing a film like that must be equally worrying.
Leigh Whannell: I did used to worry about that sometimes. Sometimes when you’re writing a Saw movie you’ve got to Google something like, “How fast does it take somebody to die if they’re in a bath of Hydrochloric Acid?” or “What happens if you drink battery acid?”. I was sure that my computer was being fed to the NSA Super Computer!
James Gilmore: This film, more than any other film in the ‘‘Insidious’’ series, really manages to play with our emotions. I laughed, I screamed, I cried (especially at the end). Was important to you for people to leave the cinema and feel a little bit messed up, not really sure where they stand?
Leigh Whannell: Yeah, that’s what I really wanted! In a way I wanted the ending to be kind of hopeful but I actually really wanted the emotional side of this movie to resonate with people. I didn’t want it to just be scares, I really wanted the story of Quinn trying to contact her Mother to really resonate with people so I’m glad to hear you say that it hit home. In a perfect world people would leave the cinema and say, “I screamed my head off, I crawled under my chair, I was terrified, I laughed a couple of times and then I cried at the end”. That would be my perfect review from an audience member.
James Gilmore: I’m going to take note of that and lets see if I can put that in my review! Was that [the play of emotion], for you, the most important thing or was there something else you were also trying to achieve with the film?
Leigh Whannell: The first and foremost thing was scaring people, that’s the bread and butter of an ‘Insidious’ film. If you’re making an ‘Insidious’ sequel your biggest goal is to scare the pants of people. That was my Number 1 priority but, not too far behind was to move people. I wanted this film to be moving. I put a lot of work into the character of Quinn and this story of her wanting to talk to her Mother and the fact that she had lost her Mother to Cancer. I really gave that a lot of attention as well. It was not an after thought for me.
James Gilmore: Why did you want to direct this film as a prequel?
Leigh Whannell: It was really Lin Shay who drove the whole thing. Unfortunately we killed of Lin Shay’s character at the end of Part 1; Patrick Wilson’s character choked Lin Shay’s character to death and killed her. That meant that if I wanted to build a film around her I had to go back in time. It was a blessing in disguise because the ‘origin story’ aspect of it allowed me to work with a completely blank slate. I could create a new family, a whole new set of circumstances and I found it really freeing.
James Gilmore: There’s been a lot of rumours about you coming back together with James Wan for another Saw film to celebrate 10 years of the franchise. Can you confirm or deny these rumours?
Leigh Whannell: I can pretty much deny them! I say ‘pretty much’ because as far as I know they’re not making another Saw film, they haven’t planned it but maybe they are talking to another writer about a script and I just don’t know about it. It could be something I’m not privy to over at Lionsgate but I definitely know they aren’t in production on anything – then I would know. Maybe they have a little development lab where they’re coming up with ideas for it without my knowledge? Whenever somebody asks that question and I tell them it’s not happening, I always feel like I’m letting the wind out of their sails a little bit but I wish I could give you better news as a Saw fan!
James Gilmore: You broke our hearts, but its fine, this film is good enough for us to stay happy! Lastly then, lots of people look at the horror genre as being very difficult to get into because it’s potentially dangerous, expensive and it’s also difficult as a director to get the right level of scary and a good storyline as well – something that you’ve really managed to do in this film. What advice would you give to young people wanting to get into directing horror?
Leigh Whannell: I guess the advice to get into horror would be the same as the advice to get into any genre, which is: Just keep writing, keep creating – technology has really democratised film making in a way like, when I was in film school you really didn’t have access to the type of equipment that kids have access to now. It was very expensive, you had to shoot on film, if only I had access to the type of things that people can get their hands on now like beautiful digital cameras that look as good as 35mm cameras and editing equipment on a laptop. My advice would be to not only keep writing and keep creating but to start making films. I go back to that old Stanley Kubrick quote; apparently he said that “the best way to make a film is to start shooting it”. I really would pass that on, I would say to people: Grab a camera, even if it’s your iPhone, and just start making things, start making short films, short horror films, don’t bite off more than you can chew and leap in there and make a feature film. Keep pushing because you will eventually get to a point where somebody takes notice, if you stick with it.
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