How a new director helped Insidious: The Last Key change up the franchise

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Jan 5, 2018, 2:00 PM EST

The fourth in the Insidious franchise, Insidious: The Last Key, keeps things fresh by changing up the story. In the film, we learn about Elise Rainier's abusive childhood as she returns to the house she grew up in to face the demons — both literal and figurative — that she let loose.

Director Adam Robitel is new to the Insidious franchise, but not to the horror genre. He is best known for The Taking of Deborah Logan, his feature directorial debut, as well as scripting Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. SYFY WIRE spoke to Adam about joining the franchise, working with franchise veterans Lin Shaye and Leigh Whannell, and what it is about the horror genre that keeps him coming back.

What was it like stepping into the Insidious franchise, surrounded by so many veterans?

Adam Robitel: It was kind of painless. It was certainly daunting. I had big shoes to fill. James [Wan] and Leigh [Whannell] are kind of the granddaddies of modern supernatural horror, so it was daunting in that capacity but very effortless in the sense that I had built a relationship with James. He was very supportive of my first film. I went in to be vetted by [producer] Jason Blum and Leigh and everybody. I went in armed with a lot of materials and storyboards and a lookbook and an idea for a demon I thought should be in Chapter 4. I was very prepared.

Early on, I realized I could not out-Wan the Wan. James is so good at what he does. So I really leaned into the human drama of the story and the relationship between a father who doesn't understand his daughter, and the abuse that brings. It was kind of liberating in that sense. I had Leigh next to me the whole time, so if anything felt left of center for an Insidious movie, or totally didn't feel right, we kept each other in check. He was a great collaborator. It was a great opportunity.

Leigh wasn't looking over your shoulder, saying "Well, this is how I would do it?"

No, he was very lovely and he gave me my space. There were times when I'd ask him what he thought about something, but for the most part, he was totally respectful and never weird or "a thing" at all.

You've done a lot of writing, acting, directing, editing, producing... which do you like the best?

Writing is the hardest for me. It opened some doors early on so I am grateful for it. I love directing, it's very social. it's also incredibly exhausting. To be honest, I'd be an actor if I could; I just don't have the constitution — the "testicular fortitude," as my grandmother used to say — to live the auditioning life. It's just soul-crushing. I shouldn't even say that either.

When I'm on set, I love being able to put a movie together and tell an interesting story. Depending on the day, I'm a little schizophrenic. The grass is always greener, you know? Left to my own devices, I think I would love to stay in the producer/director side of things because it's just so fun.

You have a lot of acting gigs on your resume. Was there any temptation for you to appear in Insidious 4, or were you fine being behind the camera?

I did a cameo in the last film I just shot, for Sony. It has to be right. With this one, with this being Leigh's show... it all has to be the right circumstance and not detract from the movie. There wasn't an impulse on this one. I restrained myself.


Lin Shaye, it is her movie, and she is phenomenal in it. But was there any concern about having the lead of a horror movie be an adult woman, instead of a teenage starlet?

My first film [The Taking of Deborah Logan] is about an older woman who has Alzheimer's Disease, and her middle-aged daughter struggling as her caregiver. I feel like there is a dearth of these roles for older actresses. For me, it was a no-brainer. The marketplace might say, "You don't have a 22-year-old nubile sorority girl in your movie," but that's the reason I would want to go see the movie: it's different.

I think good horror is about slices of life. I laud the studio and Blumhouse for the movie. And Lin's character is so beloved. She's like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the franchise. It didn't seem like such a big jump, but I can see how the marketplace might say, "Oh wow, what a risk." But a good story is a good story, and she is such an underdog. She wants to help people. More power to her! Lin is so filled with gratitude about this renaissance she's had. No one is more hardworking or deserving than Lin Shaye.

You have worked pretty consistently in horror for most of your career. What is it about the horror genre that speaks to you?

I think it's a mixture of everything. To be completely candid, it's low-hanging fruit when you are starting out as a filmmaker. You can make a horror film for cheap, it can get seen and do business, so there was that aspect of it. Then the other side of it is that I was raised with really scary ghost stories by my grandmother, so I always gravitated towards things that creeped me out. So there is a very personal reason for that.

I wrote a script that Guillermo del Toro optioned that he was going to direct, so that kind of opened the door for me. I waited for him to do it after Pacific Rim. When that didn't happen, I pivoted and decided to write something I could direct. I was sort of just waiting for this other opportunity to happen. So it was a combination of external and internal inspiration.

What was the script del Toro optioned?

It's called The Bloody Benders. It's based on the true story of a family of serial killers in the 1870s in Kansas. I'm going to direct it now, but I wrote a twisted love story set against a horrific spree of killings. Very Coen brothers, murder-on-the-prairie kind of story. I'm hoping to find a home for it. The problem is, it feels like a western, and the problem is that westerns don't translate well overseas, apparently. It's a big epic. There is a train escape sequence, and posses... it's a bigger movie. Better or worse, the smaller genre movies are all under $10 million, so I will probably have to direct a Marvel movie before I can get this one made.

Other than The Bloody Benders, what else are you working on?

I just finished a psychological thriller for Neil Moritz and Ori Marmur of Original Films. Right now it's called The Maze. That is sort of like The Game, but I can't say anything more about it. It should be coming out in September 2018.

Insidious: The Last Key is now in theaters.