Our fright-filled weekend on Fangirlish continues today with the inside scoop on an upcoming horror film you’ll definitely want to check out. We sat down with the cast and filmmakers of Insidious: Chapter 3 at WonderCon–including Dermot Mulroney (Sean Brenner), Stefanie Scott (Quinn Brenner), Hayley Kiyoko (Maggie), Angus Sampson (Tucker), Lin Shaye (Elise Rainier), Writer/Director Leigh Whannell, and Producer Jason Blum–about how this installment compares to the other two films, on- and off-screen scares, and much more.
Insidious: Chapter 3 brought on a new filmmaker when James Wan, who directed the first two installments, wasn’t available–but they didn’t have to look far. Leigh Whannell, who wrote and starred in the first two Insidious films, took up the mantle. “If James couldn’t do it, we all wanted Leigh to do it,” said Producer Jason Blum.
Leigh was certainly game, though he did have some reservations. “It did seem logical, with James gone, for me to direct, having written the first two films,” he said. “But I had my own fears about it. I mean, I had fears about living up to what James did, because he’s such a good horror director. What if it fell flat? Then I’d be the guy that ruined it.”
Leigh was also concerned about directing a sequel and not putting an original spin on it–though he feels that Insidious: Chapter 3 doesn’t have this problem. “I treated it [as if] it was a standalone film,” he said. “It really has its own new set of characters, even though Lin’s [Shaye] in there. You can watch it, even if you haven’t seen the other films, and know what’s going on.”
Acting as both writer and director, Leigh had a great deal of creative control over the final film–which is not always the case. “The thing that impressed me most when I saw the film is how seamlessly he translated a great horror script to the screen. A lot of times, you look at a script and then you see the movie, and they’re both good, but they’re not exactly the same thing,” Dermot Mulroney said. “[Leigh] wrote down what he wanted; he shot what he wanted; and he edited it together to be exactly what he originally wanted; and that’s incredibly hard to do. There’s other pressures, there’s time, there’s money, you don’t have time to shoot a thing a certain way or whatever the things that prevent you from getting that ideal thing. But he got it, because he had the great support from the producers–Blumhouse–and everybody just worked really hard for him because of his personality. He’s got it all–what you need to be a great Writer/Director, he’s got,” he said.
Of course, Leigh not only directed Insidious: Chapter 3, but also reprised his role as Specs for the film. Some of the actors commented on the experience of acting opposite their director. “I haven’t done [it] very often,” Dermot said. “[It’s] really fun, because you’re thinking, ‘What’s he thinking?’ And now I can look at [Leigh], instead of him being behind the fake wall of the apartment, judging you from there, he’s actually–” “We get to see him judge us,” Stefanie Scott added, laughing.
Wearing the three hats of Writer/Director/Actor–as one might imagine–is quite the balancing act. “I’ve got to say, it’s really hard to act and direct something. Like, I’ll be in a scene, acting, but I wouldn’t be concentrating on the lines. I’ll just be like, ‘You said that wrong! You gotta change that! Change that jacket! Don’t cross your hands! Fix that light!’ If you watch this film and you see me acting in the film, just know that my inner monologue is just all directing,” Leigh said.
Sometimes Leigh would re-write pieces of the script, reallocating his lines to other characters–like Tucker (played by Angus Sampson)–so he could focus on directing. “I definitely think that the characters of Specs and Tucker are great supporting characters,” Leigh said. “It’s like–to use a kind of lame cooking analogy, you just want that hint of chili. You know, if you dump it in, it just ruins the dish. I really think that a little bit of Specs and Tucker goes a long way, because these films–they’re not horror comedies; they’re horror films. But we do love these quirky characters. And so, I felt like a tightrope I was walking was to have them there just enough, to do their thing without tipping the balance of the movie and making it wacky.”
Raising the Bar
So how will Insidious: Chapter 3 top the first two installments? “I didn’t so much try to top the first film as I tried to equal the first two films,” Leigh said. “I think James [Wan, director of the first two Insidious movies] is such a master of modern horror. I really think he’s the best modern horror director.” Leigh definitely felt that he had big shoes to fill in the directorial department, but he does think that they succeeded in equalling the first film.
Lin Shaye also weighed in on the differences we’ll see this time around. “There’s a different kind of horror in this film than there is in the first two. There’s still the traditional scares and stuff–and builds to scare, and builds to the jangles, which is correct for this kind of film,” she said. “I think it deals with this theme of human loss, in the way that the demon, The Man Who Can’t Breathe, is almost a recognizable figure.”
The Man Who Can’t Breathe–an ominous name for a sinister figure. But who is he? “He [is sort of] the embodiment of cancer,” Lin said–something that almost everyone can relate to on some level. “Even though he’s as evil as he is, there’s some reality to who this demon is. It’s not a red-faced demon; it’s not the lipstick demon; it’s not some guy with hooks. It’s some real person, who’s been in the hospital bed. I think those elements on some level make it almost scarier, in a different kind of way than the first two. And the theme of loss is really powerful in this one,” she said.
According to Angus, even the man playing The Man Who Can’t Breathe was terrifying. “This [film], I feel, is just a lot more brutal with its scares. I know Insidious has always been endorsed to not having trickery in their scares. This one–just seeing the actor who plays The Man Who Can’t Breathe [Michael Reid MacKay]–” “He’s terrifying,” Hayley Kiyoko added. “You’d see him on set, in makeup–the fact is, with all due respect to his physique, he’s so malnourished to begin with. He’d be walking around–there’s no light anywhere in the studio,” Angus said. Seems pretty scary to us!
Even though the technology for creating amazing film effects is getting more advanced all the time, when it comes to horror, often going back to the basics is better. In Insidious: Chapter 3, practical effects were a huge focus. “I feel that CG goes against what makes a great horror film scary. It needs to be simpler. Any horror film I’ve seen–and I won’t name any names–but any horror film I’ve seen that’s been loaded up with CG has not been scary,” Leigh said. “What’s scary to me is the ending of The Blair Witch Project, where it’s just someone standing against the wall, facing the wall, and not turning around. The most simple thing in the world–why does it chill us? Because we can relate to it.”
For the actors, this approach meant getting very hands-on. “I did all the stunts in the movie that I did as Quinn,” Stefanie said. “I think that the best scary scene, [which] you see in the trailer, [is] when Quinn falls through the floor and every door closes and it totally goes pitch dark. Which is terrifying to watch, but to be in it and to fall on the floor hard and then have this demon slowly closing everything–What’s so great about Insidious is everything is done in real life. Like, he [The Man Who Can’t Breathe] actually looks like that in-person. All the stunts were done on cue. Things falling… There’s no CGI. It’s all real life.”
The set-up for these practical effects involved a lot of equipment–and dedication. “We’re on set with wires, a bed shaker–you know, practical effects. Which is so fun, because it’s actually happening–pictures flying off the wall and all that isn’t added in later,” Dermot said. “And there’s physical stuff she did that’s really impressive. She has an accident, and both legs are in a cast. It’s hard to describe, but there are 8-hour stretches that [Stefanie] is in actual leg casts and cannot walk. This actor was in that situation deliberately, and she took it like a champ and you really see it wearing on her.”
Hayley, who plays Quinn’s friend Maggie, was also impressed by the stunts Stefanie had to do–harnesses and all–and the practical effects used in the film. “Everything they do is so organic and real,” she said. “The talent and the skill that goes behind scaring people–it’s so difficult, I mean, it really is.”
Of course, when the effects are being created in-person, there’s more opportunity for scares. “The set was very cold and dark–we always had an atmosphere. It was really an experience. And you have to have that type of set to really create a film like the one they have created,” Hayley said.
For Dermot, one of the scariest scenes didn’t involve any effects at all–just Stefanie’s acting. “She sort of gets possessed by this demon and talks back to her dad. I thought that was so uncool! I was trying to be nice, but she really loses her shit in one scene. And she did beautifully in the performance and freaked me out,” he said. “And there, too, it wasn’t effects or anything–it was an actor saying the script as written. So I know it’s coming, and yet I’m freaked out because of the way that she’s doing it. It’s really impressive what she did in this scene. People will be blown away, I’m sure of it.”