While no stranger to the realm of horror, filmmaker Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) is a newcomer to the world of Insidious, as he was recently brought on to helm the latest chapter in the franchise, The Last Key. This fourth Insidious film goes back to where it all began for Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye)—her childhood home—as a dark presence has settled in that’s terrorizing the house’s new resident, and only she has the power to stop to it.

During the recent press day for Insidious: The Last Key, Daily Dead had the opportunity to chat with Robitel about coming aboard the successful franchise, and he discussed having to prove himself to Blumhouse before taking on directorial duties, his experiences collaborating with his longtime friend Lin Shaye, and the inspiration behind The Last Key’s demonic baddie.

Look for Insidious: The Last Key in theaters everywhere this weekend, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Great to speak with you today, Adam. I really enjoyed Deborah Logan. What was the experience like coming into the Insidious franchise? There are the established players involved already, and you’re essentially coming in to play in this new sandbox, yet you have to find a way to make it your own, too.

Adam Robitel: Yeah, there was definitely a steep learning curve. I felt like the dog who caught the bus, though. I had known James Wan socially through Lin Shaye, actually, and James was really supportive of The Taking of Deborah Logan. And so, when Leigh Whannell decided he was not going to direct this one, I guess my name was put on a short list. And I went into Blumhouse, because I think when you make a found footage movie, you have to kind of prove to the powers that be that you can make a traditional movie too, because it's a different skill set. So, I went in and really auditioned, where I had a bunch of presentational material and storyboards and concept art about the demon.

But at its core, about a week into shooting, I realized I can't “Out-Wan the Wan.” James is so good at what he does, and so that was really liberating in the sense of I really leaned into the human drama of Insidious: The Last Key. Because really, it's about childhood abuse, it's about a father who does not understand his daughter and is therefore punishing her. And I think that's far scarier than any demon who could pop out of a door. For me, it's always about whether or not you can take the horror stuff, the scares, out of it and it still works—whether it's Alzheimer's and a daughter struggling as a caregiver, or if you're a young girl who has this ability and her father's literally trying to beat it out of her. That's what is fascinating to me.

And look, Leigh Whannell was super cool, too, and super gracious, and I learned a lot from him. And if there was ever a time when I've wanted to do something that was a little outside of the Insidious world, he was there to say, "Uh, maybe you shouldn't set kittens on fire." Not that I wanted to set kittens on fire, but you get the idea [laughs]. So, I had a lot of help and it was a great learning experience. Each movie you do is like a whole new film school.

Plus, when you're working with Blumhouse, you can't get a better film school than that since they're known for being hands off, for the most part, and really allow their directors the space to stretch a bit.

Adam Robitel: Oh yeah, they give you a lot of latitude, and they leave you alone. And that was definitely my experience, and it was very empowering in that sense. And look, there are always challenges, and you always want more time each day. There were logistical challenges, but the best part was working with Lin Shaye, because I have been friends with Lin for a long time. I've acted in a couple of movies with her, and she's just amazing. She's a tour de force, and it was just such a pleasure to direct her in this.

Was that a different collaborative process for you then, working with Lin, because you did have that shorthand with her already?

Adam Robitel: I think that I could push her a little further because I knew her, and I'd had this preexisting relationship. Each relationship with an actor is like a marriage, and you don't know what their process is until you're in the thick of it with them. And so much of it, my job, is to stay out of their way when they're really good, or to sculpt when they might be going off the rails. A lot of times it was like, "Okay, we did a big version, let's do a subtler version now," or things like that.

There was this funny moment where Lin called me on something, and she was totally right. We're outside of Elise's house, and I have this Prius picked out for her character’s car. Lin comes up to me, and she's like, "Elise wouldn't drive a Prius; you are so off-base here." And so, we found some beater truck that was much more in line with who Elise was as a person. And I was like, "That's it." But because we had this relationship, she knew she could call me on that, all in an attempt to make the movie better.

I'm curious, because you mentioned bringing in concept art early on, I was wondering if the Key Demon was your doing, or if that was something dictated by the script? Because that design was great.

Adam Robitel: Yeah, when I read the first draft when I came in, it did not have the demon in it. There was the motif of locks and keys and prison and sort of the austerity of living near a prison, which I thought was interesting. And so, one of the things I brought to the table was that I told them, "Guys, I think you need an entity in the movie. When I think of Insidious, I think of the Lipstick Demon, I think of the Man Who Couldn't Breathe. And so, from that initial draft, I pitched this idea, and I worked with a concept artist by the name of Jacob Hare, and we did some early, early work on what Key Face could look like.

I loved this idea of a gullet with a keyhole to it. And then, in one of Jake's early drawings, he did keys for fingers, and so I really glommed onto that. Ultimately, Justin Raleigh from Fractured FX, who does all James' stuff, took our early concept art and kept refining it. I was like, "We have to put Javier Botet in the movie," because he has this great physicality, he's very thin and reed-like. And so, it was an evolution out of the themes that were in the first draft that gave birth to this entity. I think he came out pretty great.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.