Insidious stars Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell on new film The Last Key, the horror franchise’s success – and its uncertain future
The fourth instalment in the Insidious series could be the last for writer and executive producer Whannell, while ageing scream queen Shaye explains she never felt her gender should dictate the way she acts
“I like horror; it’s been very good to me,” says veteran actress Lin Shaye, 74. It is perhaps the understatement of her recent visit to Hong Kong to promote Insidious: The Last Key, the fourth chapter in the successful horror film franchise.
Shaye reprises her role as paranormal investigator Elise Rainier, who takes centre stage in this prequel to the original film from 2010. When a case takes Rainier back to her childhood home, disturbing memories resurface from her own troubled past.
“She had a very difficult relationship with her father,” Shaye says of her character, who has appeared in every Insidious film to date and has increasingly become the focus of the series. “The emotionality was really difficult, because she has visited some very dark places and your body doesn’t know you’re pretending.”
For Leigh Whannell – who not only wrote and produced all four films but directed the third and stars alongside Shaye as her sidekick Specs – anchoring his franchise on an elderly woman was a no-brainer. “The audience loves Lin,” he says. “Putting Lin front and centre was less a bold choice, and more just giving the audience what they want. Almost pandering, if you will.”
The 40-year-old from Melbourne has become a horror movie mogul after creating both the Saw and Insidious franchises with Malaysian-born director James Wan (who has in turn branched out with The Conjuring franchise).
Throughout our conversation, Whannell enthuses about his favourite new horror films – name-checking Under the Skin, The Babadook and The Witch – while singing the praises of Blumhouse, the production company behind the Insidious series and Jordan Peele’s smash hit Get Out . “They don’t have huge studio budgets, but what they offer in exchange is creative freedom,” he says.
For her part, Shaye is certainly enjoying her time as an ageing scream queen. “I am thrilled. This is the best time of my life,” she says.
The actress’ career began in the 1980s with small roles in genre classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Critters and The Running Man. She has worked with Jack Nicholson, Walter Hill and Gus Van Sant, and turned in hilarious, disturbing performances in comedies like Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary.
“For me, it’s not so much whether it’s a horror film or a comedy, I just love telling a good story and hopefully saying something important,” she says.
Shaye is quick to acknowledge her good fortune in Hollywood – “I feel like I am a little bit of a forerunner” – and praises her parents for her success. “That gender thing was never put into my head, that you were supposed to act a certain way. With my parents it was about progress, moving forward through your life and hopefully doing things you like,” she says.
Whannell knows what she is referring to. “An unfortunate reality of Hollywood is that women, once they reach a certain age, start to lose out on roles,” he says. “And the same thing just doesn’t happen to men. You see actors working well into their 50s and 60s, still getting the girl. Lin is really aware of how lucky she is.”
Beyond bringing back popular characters, Whannell admits it is a challenge keeping the Insidious series fresh. “It’s easy to make people jump, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re scared.”
Indeed, the Insidious films have often been accused of employing an intrusive sound mix to create cheap shocks. “We do have a lot of jump scares, but we’ve tried to make them pay off, to make them scary. But that’s really hard,” he says.
After making his directorial debut with Insidious 3 – an experience he describes as “kind of a soft landing” – Whannell was worried about being pigeonholed if he directed the next film as well. Instead, he agreed to write the next chapter and reprise his role as Specs, but passed the directing baton on to Adam Robitel, who only had one previous credit in that capacity to his name.
“Adam knew he was the new guy coming into the family, so was really open to working with us on the story and the characters. We also wanted to let him make his own film,” Whannell says.
That was no doubt a nerve-racking prospect for someone with their screenwriter and executive producer on set every day.
“I know that it’s really difficult to direct when you’ve got someone over your shoulder watching your every move, or telling you what to do,” Whannell says. “I didn’t want to do that, so I just sat back. But then if he invited me to give him feedback, then I would.”
Since finishing Insidious: The Last Key, Whannell has directed his second film: a sci-fi thriller called Stem, also for Blumhouse. Does he see this as the end of Insidious? “I don’t know. When you’re on the creative side of filmmaking your brain is so clogged, you don’t want to add extra clutter by thinking about the business side.”
A moment later, however, Whannell shifts perspective and becomes more positive about the franchise’s future.
“I’m so thankful that I got my chance that the idea of Insidious going on makes me think I should give the reins to some young filmmaker who hasn’t had a chance thus far … or a female director. That seems appealing to me.”
But one thing is for sure: if there are more Insidious films on the horizon, its lead actress will be available. “I’m in this for however long they want to do it,” Shaye says. “I really am having the best time of my life. I’d like to live till I’m 110 and still be acting.”
Insidious: The Last Key opens on January 4
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