Adam Robitel is an American film director, actor, screenwriter, and producer. He is most known for his work in the horror genre, having directed the exorcist genre film The Taking of Deborah Logan and writing on Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Leigh Whannell is an Australian screenwriter, producer, director, and actor. He is most known for his contributions and participation with the horror genre, having written films for his friend, director James Wan. Whannell wrote SawDead Silence, and the screenplays for the Insidious franchise. Adam Robitel and Leigh Whannell have teamed up on Insidious: The Last Key, with Robitel directing and Whannell writing. The film was released on digital on March 20, 2018 and released on DVD & Blu-ray on April 3, 2018.Screen Rant got a chance to chat with director Adam Robitel and writer Leigh Whannell on press day, where we discussed what the process was like in utilizing practical effects over CG effects in the horror film, how practical effects root the film further into reality, and what the inspiration was behind Elise’s backstory.SR: I liked the Insidious franchise and I really liked the fact that you guys used mostly practical effects and I think that element is getting lost with a lot of films nowadays. Talk to me why that decision was important to you guys.

Adam Robitel: A lot of it was necessity frankly, because you don’t have vast VFX budgets, but  I think speaking for both of us, but I always will look better. We’ll depends on the situation. Like, I like on my first film we had to do this extended jaw thing and we tried to do it practically and it was a debacle. So with that ended up being and be ineffective. It really depends, I think on the element and what’s needed. But for a creature, I mean it was just a no brainer. Like, it’s interesting to watch Mama, for example, they do like the Mama look, Javier Botet, and he looks so unbelievable, but then they covered him with a bunch of CGI in your like,  I didn’t get to see that. you know?

Leigh Whannell: I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to paint myself as, you know, the evangelist for practical effects or some sort of anti CG guy because it’s really a tool. Like filmmaking is this toolbox and you use what’s appropriate in relation to the story. If you’re making a film about, you know, an alien invasion being stopped by Superheroes, you need, I’m sure CG to pull it off and, and uh, so it’s about looking at the story you have and applying that tool to it. I will say that when it comes to the horror genre, for me, the scariest thing is when something is actually in the frame. You know, the simplest thing in a horror movie can scare the shit out of you for lack of a better expression. You don’t have to put on some sort of technical gymnastics to scare people. It’s not an action film in an action film, it’s all about this vitality, and this energy of what’s happening in the scene that is hopefully sparking the adrenaline of the audience. For me in a horror film, just looking down a long corridor and seeing somebody standing there, the simplest thing in the world, has a really seismic impact to me. To this day, I still think of the first time I saw the Shining and how much it scared me. If you go back and you really deconstruct that movie, it’s all very simple. I mean, except for pouring liters and liters of blood out of an elevated. But beyond that, it’s all very elemental and simple and I find that CGI just fit into that.

Adam Robitel: The Lady In 237 was terrifying, and even like as I was saying to Leigh earlier, like you start second guessing yourself and like, oh, should I make the demon  more humanoid and stuff. Like the man would couldn’t breathe in Insidious 3 is very human. And I think that my takeaway going forward is the more human it is, the scarier.

Leigh Whannell: Yeah. It needs to be tactile. If you can touch it. As soon as I see something on screen that I can’t touch, I kind of detached from the movie in a way.

SR: I agree. It’s because it feels so relatable in a way when you have that element. That real element to me.

Leigh Whannell: A hundred percent, like I guess, I grew up in a different era. Like, you know,  I grew up in what could impolitely be called the VHS era, you know? It was an interesting time, especially the eighties because it was wedged right between the sixties and seventies in this kind of quaint, you know, mid century stuff. And then the CGI explosion of the nineties with Jurassic Park. So you could say that the eighties was the height of practical effects. And there are some horror films. Not too many, but there are a handful of movies from the eighties that hold up flawlessly today. I’m thinking of films like The Thing, The Fly. You go back and watch The Thing, there is not one puppet string in view. There is nothing fake looking in that movie. The practical effects so flawless that I defy any kid today to watch that movie and say that it’s hokey or fake and I just enjoy it more. Maybe I’m a product of my era, but I just enjoy the practical effects of The Thing more than CGI aliens. Leveling New York City.

SR: Switching gears for a second and I know that with every film, each one that you do you learn something or you take something away from it. What is it about this film that you can take away and remember? Like, OK, this is what I learned on Insidious 4?

Adam Robitel: Well, I think that was one of them for me. It was just going back to human is usually scarier. Because I remember even we’re talking about like, what’s the new thing? Like, what would David Lynch do? Like, the scenes like in Lost Highway with what’s his name comes in and he’s on the phone, Robert Blake. There’s nothing scarier because humanity is scary and the more fantasy you go, I think it’s cool. It’s visual and it can be iconic but it’s not as scary as something more grounded. So that was one for me for sure.  And you know, look, we did set extensions and stuff which I hadn’t done before and putting the prison up behind the house. So that was a learning curve for me as well.

Leigh Whannell: Yeah. I’m trying really hard to think of something because I, I didn’t direct the film. Adam directed it. He was a great collaborator and was really willing to say OK, I’m the new guy to the Insidious family.

Adam Robitel: I’ll tell you one thing though I will say is, because I haven’t gotten much flack from it, but I thought the fans would be angrier that there wasn’t fog. In the prison scene, I thought, well, you know, we’re going to be lambasted, but like our A.D. who had worked on three as well, so you know, when you start getting into fights, the fog gets kicked up and you have such a limited amount of time to shoot a movie. That was just a strategic decision not to be burning time worrying about the fog. That was something that interestingly didn’t come up, but I know you guys, you had the same, because they were shot and in like a big apartment building with hallways and stuff. You don’t think about it, but like, just to fill that set sometimes takes 45 minutes and then it’s getting kicked up. That was something that I chose not to do just for sake of time, but I thought for sure I was going to get people who are going to be like, where’s the fog?

SR: With this film, are there any scenes that you were like, wow, I really wanted to make this work or get into the film but just didn’t quite make it?

Leigh Whannell: There was one scene I wrote in the script where Elise, we actually saw it in the extras. Elise comes up to the window and I just felt like somehow it didn’t quite get there. Did it? Both. Adam and I were like, we should cut this out of the film.

Adam Robitel: Yeah. This is the first time I drive to somebody else’s work to. It’s like a game of telephone where I was trying to get it into his head. I’m sure you probably would’ve shot it in a different way than I did.

Leigh Whannell: Yeah. I probably wrote and didn’t know how to do it.

Adam Robitel: You rely on your team. It was hard too because it’s also early in the movie and you don’t want to, my big thing was you don’t want to see the demon too early because then you’re like, where do you go from there? But yeah, the window scare was tough because I can see we were going to be vaguely see him. And then as the thing fell down, I was going to wipe them away. How would you, how would you have done that?

Leigh Whannell: I would have had a blind that was open about this far (about 6 inches)  and you would’ve been able to see this much of somebody’s hands and then just slowly lifted, keep lifting it, and then just as the blind to here, the person would’ve walked away.

SR: That’s interesting. Super interesting. Listening to you guys like collaborate and talk about…

Adam Robitel: There’s the other things too, like we shot that on location and then like to get the silhouette they had to take a light, pop it through the front porch of the house.

Leigh Whannell: See, I wouldn’t have silhouetted it.

Adam Robitel: You would full on…

Leigh Whannell: I would have had a blind that you couldn’t see through.  Just what you saw just would’ve been whatever you want to say through the blind.

Adam Robitel: The other problem we had, it was the demon, the design wasn’t done yet. And so we didn’t have. Javier Botert wasn’t in town, so we had to hide a, the stand-in dude. On the day we couldn’t, I’m just going back. It’s like film school disclaimers on why I couldn’t do your beautiful scare of the way I wanted to. Um, yeah, we had a standing guy who wasn’t even made up. You’d like toilet paper wrapped around his arms.

Leigh Whannell: That’s filmmaking.

SR: Last question I have is, I loved the concept of last film. I like exploring a Elise’s backstory. It’s really fascinating to me. What was the inspiration behind that back story?

Leigh Whannell: I oftentimes, when I sit down to write a sequel to the first question for me is always, OK, what haven’t I done yet? You know, I’ve been involved with a few sequels. I wrote two of the Saw sequel’s. The second and the third Saw film. And I’ve written all of the insidious film, so almost feel in some ways like a sequel veteran, but when I sit down, the first question is what haven’t I done? And I write up a list of the things that haven’t been seen yet. Even if they’re small things. Um, like one of the things I remember writing down, uh, in that planning stage, which by the way is always my favorite stage of screenwriting is the planning stage before you actually have to write words. And I remember writing down that we hadn’t seen a rural setting.  It had always been in a suburban setting in a house. And I was like, OK, so all of a sudden, just a thought like that trigger’s this idea that, OK, if Elise comes from a small town, maybe we go back there, why would she go back there? It’s like a little Russian doll thing where each idea leads to another little idea.

I like keeping it very unconscious. I don’t want story planning to be, too mathematical. I like to take long walks. Often Times I’ll have my, you know, I phone in and I’ll be listening to music that kind of gets me in the mood and I’ll be walking around and just think of soundtracks. Yeah. I make soundtracks for each, for each scripts that I write before I start writing, I actually make a soundtrack. I just pulled together different tracks that evoke something and I sit there and I just listened to this soundtrack over and over and uh, just you kind of just follow this train where the story.  So in answer to your question, it’s sort of just evolves in your head, you’re like, one step leads to the next. You’re like, OK. So she’s in a small town. That’s where she’s from. Why did she leave? Maybe her father was abusive. It’s actually a really fun part of storytelling where it could be anything because you’re not tied down to anything yet. You are limitless in your reach of where the story can go. I would say that the idea to follow Elise back to her hometown and talk about her father who had been abusive, really kind of just evolved organically out of me wandering around and he’d kind of letting it appear, you know?

Insidious: The Last Key is now on digital and Blu-ray.