Writer, actor, and director Leigh Whannell probably never imagined he’d become a major force in horror when he was going to film school in his native Australia. He tortured our sanity with two of the biggest genre franchises of the past 15 years: Saw and Insidious, and now lay the story foundation for Insidious: The Red Door, revealing horrifying terrors that lurk behind the red door, marking the fifth installment of a franchise that has grossed over $542 million worldwide on a combined budget of $26.5 million.
Insidious is a horror franchise created by Leigh Whannell, who also plays the role of Specs in the films. The films in the franchise include Insidious (2010), Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Insidious: The Last Key (2018) and now, Insidious: The Red Door. The original cast from Insidious is back with Patrick Wilson (also making his directorial debut), with a screenplay written by Scott Teems from a story by Leigh Whannell and Scott Teems, based on characters created by Leigh Whannell.
“I remember James Wan and myself used to talk a lot about how astral projection hadn’t really been utilized in a horror film yet, and it’s a subject so ripe for horror films: the idea of your spirit leaving your body. And we did a bit of reading and research into it, and we found that there is this other plane that astral travelers can actually visit that sort of lives on top of our world, and it’s something that we can’t see. In your astral body, you can explore this world. Then when it came time to write Insidious, I interviewed a few psychics, and they really echoed a lot of the stuff I featured in the film.”
The first two films center on a couple who, after their son mysteriously enters a comatose state and becomes a vessel for ghosts in an astral plane, are continuously haunted by demons from a forbidden realm known as the Further until they take from the family what they want most: life. The third film, a prequel, focuses on the same psychic who helped the family; this time she comes to the aid of a young girl who calls out to the dead, the fourth film follows her when her own family becomes haunted. The fifth film follows their son Dalton going to college and gets haunted by a presence of his past. The first four film plots are depicted as case files of demonologists, and focus on people who unwillingly make contact with the demonic world.
When last we met the Lambert family, at the end of Insidious: Chapter 2, astral projectors Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Dalton (Ty Simpkins) had survived multiple trips into The Further. Dalton had been kidnapped by a demon… Josh had rescued him, only to be trapped in The Further while a ghost possesses his body in our world… that ghost, in Josh’s body, had rampaged through his house, trying to kill his family… and Dalton had ventured back into The Further to find his real father and bring him back. Insidious: The Red Door is the final chapter of the Lambert family’s terrifying saga. To put their demons to rest once and for all, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and a college-aged Dalton (Ty Simpkins) must go deeper into The Further than ever before, facing their family’s dark past and a host of new and more horrifying terrors that lurk behind the red door.
In The Silence Of Your Room…
For Wilson – the Broadway star turned Hollywood’s Scream King, per the New York Times – directing an Insidious film taps into the deeply personal aspects of acting that have defined his career. “I love horror. It’s fun for me,” he says. “It’s exciting to play an ordinary character in an extraordinary situation. A very normal family – and all of a sudden, they have this crazy trauma! He travels into another dimension and has to fight a demon! It can go as crazy as you want it to, if you start from a place of real emotion. I like pushing myself, whether it’s physically, or emotionally, or creating tension, or finding humor in the dark moments, or darkness in the light moments.”
That idea – balancing light and dark – became the central theme of the movie, according to Wilson. “Dealing with trauma, dealing with light and dark and the balance, and the art of the story – all of these seeds that were sown in the first film that now come to fruition,” he says. “Some blossom, some ripen, and some spoil.”
“Alongside James Wan, we went to some crazy places in the Insidious movies, but I think the reason they connected was that we started with a loving family,” says Jason Blum, who produces the franchise. “Just about everyone who starts a family does it with the best of intentions, hoping to create that warm, comforting, safe space with the people we love – and then, just about all of us discover that most families are complicated in one way or another. For some of us, that means years of therapy. For others, it means fighting a demon in a nightmare dreamscape.”
Anybody who goes through what Josh and Dalton experienced would want to forget all of that, and Josh and Dalton are no exception: they were hypnotized to forget their gift – or curse – of astral projection.
“After the second film, I felt there was nothing more to be done or said or explored with the Lambert family,” says Wilson, who returns as Josh and directs Insidious: The Red Door. “I had saved my son, been saved myself, been possessed; I had gone through just about everything you can do in a horror movie. The biggest question that I asked, and that I wanted to pose to the audience, was what happens to a family after ten years when you’ve been hypnotized in order to forget your family trauma?
“In hindsight, that’s probably not the healthiest way to deal with trauma: ‘It didn’t happen, you’ll forget this.’ I wanted to unpack that,” Wilson continues.
The story picks up as the original cast reunites for the third chapter in the family’s saga and the fifth film in the franchise, following two prequels. Ten years after the events of the second film, Josh and Renai (Rose Byrne) have divorced, and Josh struggles to piece together a life that seems to have major holes he can’t fill. Dalton, now a young adult, is heading off to an East Coast art college and has a strained relationship with his father. “It’s stilted because of the events that have happened, and they don’t really know why. They have missing chapters – holes in their memory – and there’s resentment from Dalton’s side. Two men who can’t quite express their desire to make their relationship better because they don’t know where it went wrong. And yet they’re tied together in more ways than one, and Insidious fans know exactly what that means.”
Wilson says the time was right to take the helm of his first feature film. “I have wanted to direct a film for a number of years,” he says. “In trying to find the right story, something that was personal to me, I hadn’t really entertained the idea of doing an Insidious movie, but when it was presented to me, it felt like an incredible gift. I deeply care about this franchise, and I knew I would be protected – that Blumhouse believed in me as an actor and as a person, and that they would gather the best team they could for me. And James Wan and I have discussed filmmaking for a number of years.”
In directing for the first time, Wilson says that it was Wan – his Insidious, Conjuring, and Aquaman director – who set the mold by setting an example. “The one thing that James would tell me over and over was, ‘Make it yours. It’s your movie. What story do you want to tell? You’re the one who’s going to be living with it.’ You better have some passion and understanding for the story you want to tell.”
“I was thrilled to hear Patrick wanted to continue the journey of Insidious as a director,” says Wan. “I’ve gotten to know Patrick very well over the years of collaboration, and I know what a film buff he is. He is extremely knowledgeable about cinema and its craft. We would geek out over movies all the time in between our setups, and making movie references on set became our shorthand. So it felt right that he was making the transition into directing, and I couldn’t be happier that he’s doing it with the Insidious franchise.”
Ultimately, Wilson knew that directing his first film would be a learning experience – as it should be. Citing all the different directors he’s worked with he says, “They’re so different in the way they approach it, and there’s no one way. That’s what I love about this business, and what I love about directors. There are so many ways to get your film made. So my goal was to capitalize on my strengths, what excites me, what interests me, and what I’m passionate about. I don’t quite know my style – I think I’m still finding my own style. I’m not so bold to think I’ve figured it out. I’m learning – I’m in a constant state of learning.”
Wilson says that Leigh Whannell, who provided the story for the film along with Scott Teems and returns to play the role of Specs, was also able to give key insight. “In some ways, Leigh was even more helpful than James about what we might do, because Leigh stepped in to direct the third Insidious film. He knows what it’s like to be handed the keys to the franchise,” he says. “He had great advice – how to make it your own, how you make it different when you can do that when you can’t.”
“Patrick had a very strong vision for the film, and knew the direction of where he wanted to take this Lambert family saga,” says Wan. “That made me really excited, since he’d be returning to play the character he played in the first two films. He’s building on the world we had created together whilst adding his own take to it. We talked and discussed about a wide range of things — story, characters, tone, scares, new villain, furthering the Further.”
…In The Darkness Of Your Dreams…
At the center of the film is Dalton, played by Ty Simpkins – reprising the role he played as a child actor in Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2. Wilson’s history with Simpkins goes back even further. “Ty also played my character’s son in Little Children, so I’ve known him since he was three years old,” says Wilson. “This is the biggest role and the most heavy lifting that he’s had to do, but because I’ve known him for so long, I knew I would feel comfortable pushing him, and I was confident that we could get there, and we did. I was excited for that challenge.”
“I love the fact that we were able to bring the original cast back together to bring the Lamberts’ saga to a close,” says Blum. “Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, of course, but also Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Andrew Astor. Getting to see how the cast has aged – especially the actors who were children and have grown into young men – underscores the heart of the story for me: that this is a family finding their way as they move through their lives.”
Reuniting the cast became a central pivot point of Wilson’s direction of the film – his reason for wanting to do it, and later, a driving force in his vision for the film.
Wilson relied on the advice of two of his previous directors. “Both Joel Schumacher and Mike Nichols would say the same thing – ‘80% of directing is casting,’” he says. “The point is well-made: you want to find people that you trust. I was excited about that. There are a lot of unknowns in directing your first film, but I’ve worked with enough younger actors – whether they’re elementary school kids, students at Carnegie Mellon University, or workshops along the way, or film classes, or musical theater classes – that I knew I’d be comfortable in that department.”
At the same time, any director also wants to make his film visually interesting, and by bringing the original cast back together, Wilson saw a way to build on and expand a startling visual idea James Wan had brought to Insidious: Chapter 2. In that film, Wan replays a scene from Insidious, showing it from a new point of view as Josh tries to navigate his home from The Further. “What a gift to weave yourself in with moments of yourself from years ago,” says Wilson. “I started to scour through the other movies, specifically Insidious 2, looking for angles of old shots in both the movie and in dailies. There are one or two shots specifically that looked like a POV. And I thought I can do the reverse of that and show that character in that room.”
In this way, Wilson calls back to the first two films. “I wanted the movie to feel like it closes out the Lambert trilogy – if you’ve seen the first two movies, you get a feeling for them – but I’ve shown it to people who know nothing of the Insidious franchise, and I know, you don’t need to see those movies to understand.”
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Leigh Whannell (Story by / Based on characters created by / Producer) has steadily gained recognition for his contributions to film through his writing, acting and now directing. He was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch with his directorial debut Insidious: Chapter 3 (the third film in the highly successful franchise he co-created). Whannell has also directed the original sci-fi thriller Upgrade, which he wrote and directed for Blumhouse/Goalpost Pictures; the film premiered at SXSW, winning the Midnighters Audience Award, and was released by BH Tilt in 2018. Most recently, he wrote and directed the critically acclaimed film The Invisible Man starring Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, and Harriet Dyer, for Blumhouse/Goalpost Pictures; the film was released by Universal in 2020.
Whannell studied film at the prestigious Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where he met filmmaker James Wan and where they started developing ideas together, including the 2004 Lionsgate release Saw, which Whannell, co-created, wrote, and starred in. In addition to his work on the screenplay for Saw II, Whannell wrote and starred in Saw III and is an executive producer on the Saw franchise. He is also a creative consultant on the “Saw” video game. The franchise is recognized as one of the most successful horror movie series and was named so by the Guinness World Records in 2010.
Whannell also served as executive producer on the latest installment Spiral, featuring Chris Rock ,which was released by Lionsgate in 2020. Whannell’s other produced writing credits include the Universal Pictures release Dead Silence and the Sony/FilmDistrict releases Insidious, which premiered at Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness and was named the most profitable film of 2011, and Insidious: Chapter 2, in which he starred alongside Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Barbara Hershey. Insidious: Chapter 3, which he wrote and directed, starred Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, and Whannell as Specs. The film was released by Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures and grossed over $112 million worldwide. Whannell also produced and wrote the script for Insidious: The Last Key starring Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, and Whannell, which was released in 2018.
Whannell co-wrote, executive produced and starred in the Australian drama The Mule, which premiered at SXSW 2014 followed by a release that same year, and Cooties, a horror comedy which he co-wrote with Ian Brennan (“Glee”). Cooties, which also starred Elijah Wood and Rainn Wilson, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival as part of the popular Park City at Midnight section and was released by Lionsgate in 2015. Whannell’s other acting credits include the Warner Bros. release The Matrix Reloaded, the Fox release Death Sentence, the independent feature The Pardon starring Jaime King, the Australian feature Dying Breed, which premiered at Tribeca, a character voice in Warner Bros.’ Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, and the thrillers Crush for Intrepid Pictures, Home Invasion for Voltage Pictures and Zinc Entertainment and The Bye Bye Man for STX Entertainment and Intrepid Pictures.
In 2014, Whannell received the Greg Tepper Award, a prestigious award for outstanding achievement in film and in 2018, he was presented with the Overlook Film Festival Visionary Award.
Scott Teems (Screenplay by / Story by) is a Georgia-born writer-director whose upcoming projects include the Blumhouse feature The Exorcist for Universal, set for release this year. He also is credited with the recent Universal releases Firestarter and Halloween Kills, the latter of which grossed over $100 million at the box office. Teems previously directed and co-wrote the Lionsgate release The Quarry. Prior to that, he was a co-EP and writer on the Netflix series “Narcos: Mexico,” and spent three seasons as writer, director, and producer on the Peabody Award-winning SundanceTV drama “Rectify.” Teems’ debut feature as writer-director, That Evening Sun, premiered at SXSW, where it won the Audience Award and Special Jury Award; the film was also nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards. Teems also directed the award-winning documentary Holbrook/Twain, which was the Opening Night Film at AFI Docs.