Adam Robitel knew he was seeing something special when he attended a showing of the very first Insidious film at the LA Film School years ago, and he recognized even then, the power of Lin Shaye’s performance as Elise Rainer. In fact, he told James Wan just that after that fateful screening.
“I told James that if Lin hadn’t nailed that monologue about the Further, if she hadn’t been as committed as she was, I don’t know that it would have all worked,” the director explained as we chatted recently.
Little did he know then, that not only would Shaye’s character become central to the franchise, but that he would also be directing the latest entry in the franchise: Insidious: The Last Key. From the moment he got the job, however, he knew he had enormous shoes to fill.
“I consider Leigh Whannell and James Wan the new godfathers of supernatural horror,” he says. “They raised the bar, and then they broke the bar.”
So, when his name was put on a shortlist to direct the latest film, he knew he had to bring his A-game, and he went in to audition with storyboards and a look book with a brand new face of evil to confront Elise Rainier. He called the demon KeyFace and he was born from the elements already present in the first draft of the script.
“The script had a lot of images of keys and locks and prisons, and it felt a lot more like a psychological thriller than the other films had,” Robitel pointed out. “It was a perfect setup to bring in another iconic demonic figure to the franchise.”
The director’s pitch worked and he was soon working with Whannell to finalize script elements and preparing to take on his first major studio film. It was a dizzying prospect to go from an independent film like The Taking of Deborah Logan which had no budget for advertising to the full might of Universal.
As filming began, he found himself in the unusual position of directing his longtime friend and former co-star from 2001 Maniacs, Lin Shaye. After three films, the actress has a firm hold on who Elise is and what she would and wouldn’t do, so Robitel gave her the space and support she needed to fully realize the emotional journey of this particular film, sometimes with comedic results.
They needed a car for Elise, and they were presented with four or five options, and Robitel, thinking Elise is a person who really cares about the environment, picked out a Prius. When Lin got to the set, she looked at the car and shook her head.
“She says, ‘A Prius? Elise would not drive a damned Prius!'” Robitel related laughing. “Then she points to this old beater truck down the street that belonged to a neighbor, and says, ‘That’s what Elise would drive.’ So we talked to the guy who owned it and borrowed the truck for the day, and it really was the right choice for Elise!”
Robitel loves that ownership, and admits that it made it easier when it was time to ask Shaye to go further than she’d ever gone before for the role comparing her to a superhero meeting her arch-nemesis while simultaneously confronting the abusive past that made her the strong individual she is today.
To make it believable, he needed an actor capable of matching her strength and tenacity. He found his man in Javier Botet, monster actor extraordinaire.
“Javier is unique in the world,” he says. “He has Marfan Syndrome, which causes his skeletal system to be elongated and it gives him this amazing ability to move his body in unusual ways.”
The actor’s heavy prosthetic make-up and thick contact lenses made it difficult to communicate, however, so Robitel found himself demonstrating the movements he wanted and allowing the actor to mimic them while bringing his own physicality to the scene. The effect is altogether terrifying, and KeyFace is perhaps the franchise’s most menacing demon to date because he is synonymous with the abuse that Elise suffered as a child.
“My style as a director has been to hire good people and then stay out of their way,” he explained, “and it really could not have worked out any better on Insidious: The Last Key.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Insidious: The Last Key is currently in theaters. Check out the trailer below and prepare yourself to journey into the Further once more.