A Brand New World on the Set of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3

     March 24, 2015

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In the summer of 2014 I visited the set of Insidious: Chapter 3 and, even though it was only a brief half-day trip back into “the further,” I left feeling really good about it. I’m a fan of the franchise and it was nice to see that it was still in more than capable hands that were eager to push it into a new direction. As someone who appreciated the totally insane structure of Insidious: Chapter 2 (but didn’t necessarily want to see that repeated), I learned that Chapter 3 would indeed be an entirely, almost epic, new animal.

Check out my report from the set of Insidious: Chaper 3 below. If you’re not familiar with the film check out the trailer and read Haleigh’s write-up of the trailer debut. The film was written and directed by Leigh Whannell and stars Lin ShayeDermot MulroneyStefanie ScottAngus Sampson along with Whannell himself. Insidious: Chapter 3 opens in theaters on May 29th.

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Image via Focus Features.

Once again, I’m in “the Further.” But everything seems unfamiliar. The last time I visited the astral plane where the most malicious spirits of the Insidious franchise hang out in was in a pitch black room at the Linda Vista Hospital in East Los Angeles. That was three years ago for Insidious: Chapter 2, right before director James Wan embarked on his Furious 7 odyssey. The room was darkened by black drapes, the only source of light being a lantern Patrick Wilson was swinging through the darkness. I had to hide in video village, separated from the action by a tarp, to avoid being in a shot.

Today “the Further” has been constructed on a massive soundstage in the hills near La Crescenta. And there’s more than one light! There are also hallways, elevator shafts and one seriously creepy apartment filled with cigarette butts, oxygen tanks and liquor bottles. And James Wan is nowhere in sight. Leigh Whannell, who wrote Saw and the first two Insidious films for Wan has taken over the directing reigns of the franchise. And, having spent a good portion of the past decade on horror sets, seems to be in control of the situation. This is all despite the fact that he had some trepidation about initially signing on. He explains:

“It was definitely scary at first. I think when James went off to do Furious 7, it was tough. It was almost like a grieving period. It was like we were together for so long we were a band, and now he’s splitting off and doing a solo project. And then when this opportunity came up, I think there was a two-minute window where I was like, I don’t want to direct a Part 3 of anything. Like, and not even The Godfather made a decent Part 3.  And then after That two-minute window passed, I was like, shut up, you’re an idiot, you have to do this.  And I realized what an awesome opportunity it was. Because you don’t understand, that was before I had written it. So all I had was the vague concept of Insidious 3.  And then once I started writing it, I fell in love with it. And it was scary without James being there at first.  And then I just started working through it, like, all right, you can’t dwell on this. You’ve just got to do the best you can. And, you know, if you have a problem, you can always talk to him. He’s definitely the master. Like, he just has an innate skill at constructing a scare scene. I think that that’s something you can’t be taught. He’s just born with this ability to go, to know exactly where the camera should be, and at what moment this person should enter frame for it to be scary. Coming up against that is pretty scary. But the thing is, when you’re talking to me right now, I still don’t know if I’ve succeeded. If you ask me that question in ten months’ time, I might be like, I failed. But I’m trying my best to live up to what James did with the first two.”

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Image via Focus Features.

Producer Jason Blum, himself no stranger to horror or the careers of Wan and Whannell commented on the need to bring an original team member onboard :

“I think the most important thing, which I learned on Paranormal Activity, and tried to do on Paranormal Activity and didn’t pull off, actually, is getting the people who originated the movie to keep doing it. So in this case, James and Leigh; Sinister, Scott Derrickson; The Purge, James DeMonaco wrote and directed both. And I think there’s an arrogance sometimes on the part of financiers of, like, we got one on the line, now let’s hire a bunch of people and make another one cheaply. And I always am definitely a big believer in giving up more of the movie to share with the people who created it, because they definitely always make the best sequels. So I was begging James and Leigh, and tried to make it comfortable for them and in this case Leigh, making it as comfortable for him to get to do what he wanted to do. And that’s by far the most important thing, which I think is unusual, but not for big franchises, like Transformers. Big franchises and companies think like that, like for Transformers we’ll get Michael Bay to keep doing this. But for horror movies, it’s less common.”

There’s also the matter of the film’s primary demon. There’s an aesthetic shift between the first two installments and Insidious: Chapter 3 and one of the most immediate changes audiences will notice is in the design of the film’s antagonist, a creature that Whannell himself will later tell us had a very specific reason for making the creative break:

“I was trying to think about him symbolically… I thought that for me the guy in this film is the living embodiment of cancer. Like, if cancer was a person, it would be this guy.  And so it’s amazing, once you have a concept like that, like sort of a fortune cookie concept that you can hold in your hand, it’s amazing how quickly the visuals of that occur to you. Like, if you just think of what would cancer look like if it was a person, I just instantly thought of this guy and the way he looks, you know. And we ended up getting the (sloth) guy from Seven.”

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Image via Focus Features.

I’m not kidding about this cancer guy’s apartment. It seriously scummy. I’ve been on a lot of film sets and it is easily one of the more detailed environments I’ve been in. You almost don’t even want to touch anything, wondering who much awful stuff you can’t see lying beneath the awful stuff you can see. It’s sort of like the exact reverse image of the apartment the film’s lead Quinn (Stefanie Scott) shares with her father (Dermot Mulroney) and brother (Tate Berney), which makes sense given that it’s in the same apartment complex (at least whatever version of this complex you might find on the further’s astral plane).

When it comes to what happens within that (cleaner) family unit, Dermot Mulroney doesn’t mince words:

“The type of scenes that we’re doing in this movie had a different effect on me than I’ve ever had in another film. And it was that I was scared. Which I’ve never had before.”

Later, we see this cancerous demon (who I’ve since learned is called “The Man Who Can’t Breathe” and is played by Michael Reid MacKay) in action. Lin Shaye (returning as Elise Rainier) is hurriedly guiding Stefanie Scott down a darkened hallway, frantically tying to reach an elevator. MacKay, face covered by an oxygen mask with a dangling hose, dressed in a hospital gown, marches after them. He looks nothing like any of the demons from the first two films, a much darker presence than some of the almost Kabuki-like designs we’ve grown accustomed to. I notice the design change and ask Whannell what precipitated it:

“I think there is a little bit of a different feel. I have my own sort of taste and style that differs a little bit from James. You know, he has a really flamboyant style. He loves Mario Bava and Dario Argento, and he uses a lot of these bright primary colors, especially in the second film. And so I want it to be in the same world as the other two Insidious films, whilst also having a bit of a change. So I think that the demons have a bit of a different look to them, hopefully.  But it’s still really in the same realm, I hope  It’s sort of right in the middle.”

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Image via Focus Features.

Picking up where we left off, Shaye and Scott just barreeelly make it in elevator in time, the doors sliding shut just as MacKay is upon them (since the elevator doors are manually operated it requires a few takes to achieve this effect). You may be asking yourself why Shaye is even in this film, considering the fact that she died at the end of Insidious and was operating from the spirit realm during the bulk of Insidious: Chapter 2. In case you haven’t realized yet, this film is a prequel. Whannell explains the reasoning behind this decision:

“By the time it had gotten to that point where I was fully committed and writing it, I was thinking about the best direction this particular story could take. I didn’t think there was much more story to tell with that Lambert family. They’d been through so much with all this stuff that had gone on, and I think it would have been weird for the trailer to be, like, you know, “They’re back!  And they’re being haunted!  Again!” James and I wrote ourselves into a corner in that Lin died in the first film. I don’t think that’s a spoiler at this point. She dies. So when I was thinking about it, I was like, well, you know, I really want Lin back but I don’t want to deal with ghost Lin, you know. I want Lin alive. And then I started thinking about an origin story for her, a prequel set before the first film. And that just became really interesting to me, the idea of seeing Lin years before the first film, and how she got to that point, and what happened to her in her life. And I realized that it could fit well, you know, because these guys (Tucker & Specs) when you met them in the first film they’d obviously been working together. They’ve probably worked on some other things. And just telling that origin story, I think, cemented the idea of a prequel. But having said that, I also like the idea that much more so than the second film, I think, people could walk in having seen neither of the last two Insidious films and have a great time and understand it. There might be some things that connect to the first films that maybe they’re not keeping total track of, but I don’t think it would be to the point where their understanding and enjoyment of the film would be affected. So I liked that slate-wiping aspect of it. Basically it’s like let’s just do the first film over again.”

When asked if there’s room for more Insidious films after this, Whannell is optimistic:

“It’s set a few years before the first film, so I think you could go in any direction. Maybe if there was another Insidious film, you could go forward again if you wanted to get crazy.  But I definitely think there’s room between this film and the first movie to look at. You want Lin Shaye alive.  You don’t want morbid ghost Lin Shaye. You want full on, turbocharged Lin Shaye.”

I actually want another Insidious movie, provided that Shaye and Whannell are willing to go another round with “the Further.” Wan and Whannell handle mainstream supernatural horror better than just about anyone, and as long as someone from that team is around to steward the franchise, I think it will be in good shape. A lot of people might not pick up on it, but this franchise takes a lot of risks (as anyone who has seen Insidious: Chapter 2 can attest). There’s a lot of warmth to them, and some genuine scares as well. More like this please.

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