He’s co-starred in and written all four films in the Insidious series, and he even sat in the directorial seat for the previous sequel, but for The Last Key, Leigh Whannell is taking audiences, and franchise favorite Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), back to the past, as we get to experience where it all started for our favorite parapsychologist, who must stop a powerful demonic force that once terrorized her as a young girl and is back to wreak more havoc.

At the recent press day for Insidious: The Last Key, Daily Dead had the chance to speak with Whannell about the inspiration behind this latest sequel, and he also discussed his enthusiasm for collaborating with Shaye, and how her involvement has helped transform the successful franchise into something very special.

This is a franchise you've been with now through all four films, in various capacities, and I really love how it all comes full circle for Elise in this film. I'm curious, for you, what was different with the process on this film versus the prior three Insidious films?

Leigh Whannell: The trick is to make it look like it was all planned, when really it's chaos behind the scenes. You're in the restaurant eating this dish, you don't know that behind that wall the kitchen is in total chaos. For me, it was a hard process to find the story for this film.

I remember when I started writing, I had a case of writer's block for a while. I remember weeks going by, and just not being able to think of anything new to say. In hindsight, it seemed so natural that I would take Lin and put her front and center in the film and go into her backstory, but it just took a while to get there. Sometimes these films do. There wasn't really any grand design or plan for it, but I'm so glad I decided to go into Lin's backstory, because now when I watch the film, it's the most interesting direction for me that we could've gone in.

Does it make it easier for you when you're working with somebody like Lin, who you know so well and you know that she can go to the places that this character needs to go in this one? Because it is probably the deepest exploration of her character that we've seen thus far.

Leigh Whannell: Absolutely. It absolutely does make it, if not easier, more fun to write for someone whose voice you know. I always think about the writers of The Simpsons. That show has been running for so long that you have to figure that some of those writers have gotten to the point where they know what Homer Simpson would say in any given situation. You know, "Oh, this is what Homer would say here."

I had that feeling a little bit with Lin. I know her so well as a human being that it was nice to write in her voice. To sit back and actually hear Lin's voice in my head, it was almost like she was there with me writing the film. That's a rare thing, and at least for me as a writer, I don't usually have that advantage of writing in someone's voice because I don't know which actor's going to be cast, or if it's an original character that I've never written before, so I'm inventing them from the ground up. Whereas with Lin, it's our fourth time around, and I really know her, so there was a real joy to that, writing for her.

With Insidious: Chapter 3, you had so many components that you were juggling on that one, because you were also directing. Was it nice to step back in this one and really be able to focus on the story, hand the reins over to a guy like Adam [Robitel], who is very capable and very confident as a storyteller, and enjoy it from a different perspective again?

Leigh Whannell: Yeah, there was something good about that, because when you're writing a film, you still have that creative hand in it. It's not as if I sat back and let somebody else do everything. Like with the Saw movies, for instance, I wrote three of them, and after the third one I was completely hands off. I didn't have anything to do with those movies. They had new writers, new directors, and so I felt very divorced from it. I felt very distant from it.

With this fourth Insidious movie, even though I didn't direct, I felt really invested emotionally, having written the script and even being on set every day as an actor. Working with Lin, there was a joy to seeing someone new, because what Adam can bring to the table is a fresh set of eyes. He had his own ideas about Insidious and how we should do it, and that's a tough thing to do.

It's tough to be the new kid at school, and Adam handled it very well. He's a calm guy. He's not someone that throws temper tantrums or gets stressed out on set. He takes everything in stride. To a degree, that's pretty amazing, especially for him to step into a really well-established world and throw off like that. It was pretty impressive.

It's amazing that you guys ended up building this franchise around a female protagonist that’s older than we normally see in films of any genre. Did you guys realize coming into these sequels the precedent you were setting? I think it’s pretty awesome.

Leigh Whannell: Well, you know, the whole thing of Lin is really a happy accident, because in that first movie, she was one of the supporting cast. The stars of the movie were Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, and the story really centered around them and their child.

I wouldn't say that Lin's character was an afterthought, but she was the Zelda Rubinstein. She was the quirky psychic that comes in to help save the day. There was no thought at all that we would be building films around her character later. It's a really happy accident and stroke of luck that we got Lin Shaye to do it. Imagine if we'd cast some other actor who wasn't as compelling. We wouldn't have the option of making films about her. I see it as a real gift from the movie gods that we got Lin.

And you're right, you don't see women Lin's age playing lead roles in studio films. It's a sad fact of the movie industry. Not even just women of Lin's age; it seems like the cutoff point for women has been remarkably early. I've heard women talk about the phone not ringing once they hit 40, which is not the case for men. As you know, men are able to continue playing these lead roles well past the so-called expiry date for women. It's really kind of sad.

Lin is very aware of how rare it is, and we just love it. I will tell you this, something that makes me really happy about the Insidious films, especially this last one, is knowing that Lin's the lead, and how unique that is in contrast to a lot of other films that have the young people running around in the lead roles. But it's just something that makes me really happy. A happy byproduct of these movies is giving Lin Shaye a stage, because she needs one. She should have one. She's got so much to offer, and it makes you realize how many more films could be great if they were based around characters and people of ages that don't usually get a chance. What stories are we not seeing? Anyway, I love it. I really love it.


In case you missed it, check here to catch up on Heather's other Insidious: The Last Key interviews and her review of the film.

  • 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.