During WonderCon Dread Central sat in on a dual roundtable discussion which paired Unfriended and Insidious: Chapter 3, which was only upsetting because I could have easily spent a full length roundtable with each.
The first group we talked to was the dynamic duo of director Leigh Whannell and series favorite Lin Shaye. Leigh started off explaining his creative direction with the movie, focusing on the idea of grief and loss, and his decision to make this installment a prequel. Since the previous installment ended on a cliffhanger, it seemed like a natural next step, but to that effect Leigh had this to say:
“I hit on the idea pretty quickly. I started with a blank page, and thought ‘if Lin is the central character, I don’t want her dead.’ Even Lin admitted that it was tough to play a ghost in the second film. I don’t want to deal with the ghost Lin Shaye, I want to deal with the real Lin Shaye.”
When asked the natural follow-up question of if he regretted killing her, Leigh elaborated:
“Yes and no. It was a great scene, and such a shock, that I’d hate to take that away. But it certainly was less fun to deal with the ghost version of you in the second film. We always do that, James [Wan] and I. Even with Saw, I remember somewhere around part three the producers, with dollar signs in their eyes, asking, “What if he didn’t have cancer? What if it was all just another trick?” We seem to have this habit of killing off characters that the audience loves. Maybe the next film I write I’ll just keep everyone alive. That’ll be the film that flops.”
It’s good to know that the creative talent behind the project cares so much about the story, and has taken the film in a logical direction that both allows for interesting character progression and makes sense to the overall story. At this point, Lin chimed in:
“It gave me the opportunity to really explore who this woman is. When we did the very first one, Angus and Leigh came over for dinner and we discussed who this woman might be. Was she married, was she not married, did she have kids, did she have pets, did she garden? Just kind of normal stuff that helps fill in the beginnings of things. This film really afforded me the opportunity to take it a few steps further so we can watch this character unfold throughout the film. It was really a treasure.”
Leigh continued the point in an interesting fashion:
“Well you also have a personal connection to the role. I’ve always found dealing with Lin that it just seems so personal to her. She has a couple of experiences of her own with the supernatural that she doesn’t tell anybody about that that she shared with me, and I could see this really personal connection. It is really at this point after making three movies that the line has blurred where Lin stops and Elise starts. To me they really are the same person. So much about Lin’s life correlates with who Elise is. Part of that is by design, reverse engineering to fit you, but a lot of it is just weird coincidence.”
Some pretty good stuff, definitely shows us why Lin’s portrayal of Elise made her an instant fan favorite. The characters of Tucker, Specs, and Elise certainly brought a much needed lighthearted air to the first film, and the decision to focus on them more in the subsequent films was a good one in my opinion. Having heard from Specs and Elise, Angus Sampson sat down at our table with series newcomer Hayley Kiyoko. The first question fielded at Angus was in regards to where Specs and Tucker’s relationship is at this stage. Here’s what he had to say:
“They don’t have the chemistry and repartee going on so much in this film. They have been kind of shitty with each other from the outset. They are not uniform, nothing works about them. It’s Elise that brings them closer together, and you witness that.”
I asked Angus if he suspected when signing up that it would be a three, possibly more, movie character. Laughing, he told us an anecdote:
“No, I didn’t. You never really know. When James [Wan] was originally going to do Saw Australia, I was going to do something for that. When it ended up not being and becoming a seven movie franchise, it was a bit like, “well, there goes that boat in the distance.” It is a great indulgence to be able to come back on set with a group of people you know and are comfortable working with. I feel bad for Hayley, having to come into a big franchise with all that pressure. Me? I don’t even have to shave.”
Speaking of Hayley, she had this to say about her filming experience:
“It was scary for me to just be on set. I would hear a creak and be like, “what was that!?” The scariest moment for me came when I was having lunch and I hadn’t yet seen what The Man Who Can’t Breathe looks like. I turn around, and there’s just this massive being staring me down like “Sup Hayley.” For fans, I think this is going to be the scariest one yet.”
It was a claim we had heard several times, and I must admit I was sceptical of such a high bar, but then Angus let us in on this piece of insider information:
“It has the second highest test scores of any horror film ever.”
The next duo at our table was leading man Durmot Mulroney and leading lady Stefanie Scott. I abandoned my professionalism a bit here and asked, “when I watch Insidious with friends, the two reactions I always get are ‘these ghosts aren’t fucking around’ and ‘wait, thats what is going on?’ You said that the script is really tight, so is it a much more straightforward film? I see that the brutality is there, but what twists and turns are we in for?” After thinking for a moment, Stefanie had this to say:
“When we say straightforward, we mean that we don’t keep you waiting for the action. There’s one twist in the beginning that nobody knows about until you see it. There are no hints at all, and I think it is the biggest shock of the whole movie. There are definitely twists and turns throughout the film.”
“It’s got great little bits, too. Stuff that you know is taking place beforehand but it has crossover with some of the demons in the further. It has a lot for the fans. Really, I think the difference is that this fiend has a face and a character. The Man Who Can’t Breathe is a real thing. It gives it a little more punch. You know who he is [sickness and misfortune], and each person has thought about him before.”
As a fan of the series, it’s good to hear that they are keeping that “anything can happen” feel. Insidious left a mark on the industry, making ghosts not only dangerous, but immediately exciting and brutal. It was a great spin on the formula, but was only made better by the insane plot twist.
Bridging the gap between Insidious: Chapter 3 and Unfriended was producer and main man at Blumhouse Productions, Jason Blum. Since time was being split between the two films, he didn’t have a ton of time to talk about Insidious: Chapter 3, but he did have this to say about it:
“When you make a sequel, you want to make the movie close enough to the previous ones that it feels connected, but far enough away so that it doesn’t derivative.”
Couldn’t agree more. Look for Insidious: Chapter 3 in theaters June 5th. Now, onto Unfriended.
I kicked off Jason Blum’s roundtable session by inquiring why he thought a Skype based movie would work or even why it would fail.
“I think that having a unique subject isn’t what makes a movie. You have to have a great topic, but then you have to execute well. I think this movie has both a great topic and great execution.”
When asked to elaborate on what he thought was good or bad, he let loose this wisdom:
“If I am forgetting to think about whether or not it’s good or bad, that’s what I’m looking for. As soon as you are done wondering, “Do I like it? Do I not like it?”, which doesn’t happen a lot with new stuff, but when it does you are onto something.”
Before going, he wrote a love letter to all horror fans in the form of his answer to the question of if he prefers more “intellectual” horror films.
“I wouldn’t describe it as intellectual. That doesn’t sound like something I’d want to see. What I’m really interested in is what takes place between the scares. It’s much more important than the scares. If I were to take out all the scares, would the movie still be interesting to watch? I like to think that all the movies we have done are still great family dramas. If you don’t really love horror movies, you focus so much on the scares. The scares are not the hard part. You have to be on the edge of your seat before the scare comes. If a door slams and you are totally immersed, you jump, and that is very hard to explain to someone that doesn’t love horror.”
Next up, we talked to Courtney Halverson, Jacob Wysocki, and Renee Olstead of Unfriended. Jacob Wysocki was first to talk, and gave us some insight into the process of acting in the film:
“It was a really fluid process. We had a skeletal plot where there were around six things that are supposed to happen. Sometimes they wouldn’t happen in a certain version, so it was always a situation where we would react to something and go with it in the now. Don’t worry about what happened in the past, just be in the moment. Let it happen organically. If you are having a conversation on skype with your mom and want to make a sandwich, you pick up the computer and go make a sandwich. There wasn’t someone putting tape in an X on the ground and saying “you have to stand here, we took 30 minutes lighting it.” I would just go and exist.”
He also gave us this little tidbit:
“We all shot in this one house in different rooms. I was in this old woodworking shed that was in the backyard with no air conditioning. There were these two baby birds, so in between takes I would have to open the door and let the mom come in and feed them. It was great.”
Renee went next, giving us some insight into the film:
“One of the things I’ve always wanted to explore in a horror movie is why don’t they just leave or get out of the situation. We see right off the bat what happens when someone tries to quit. It does not work out for him.”
She goes on to give us her take on why the movie hits home:
“There is a strong online presence of social media. It is so integrated into our lives, that buying into the idea of a cyber presence isn’t had. We’ve all experienced internet negativity, and I don’t think that it’s that far of a stretch that something could come after us.”
A burning question was hitting me at this point. “Isn’t it super distracting to see yourself in the skype window while you act? I know that if I even hear my own voice, I can’t speak.” Courtney Halverson answered this one:
“As a girl on skype, you already know your angles. I was constantly like “left side, slight tilt down” trying to catch the light. The first time doing a take I was trying to look at the camera the whole time, but they told us not to do that because when you are on a skype call, you spend a lot of time looking at yourself. We had six different screens to be looking at, but they also asked us to be distracted, so we would be shopping or texting while filming. They wanted us to be able to really disengage, because that is how people actually act.”
It is definitely clear that they focused on authenticity for this one. Part of me wonders how they will work sexts into it, and if at least one of them isn’t secretly not wearing pants, I’m calling shenanigans. Finishing off the panel was writer Nelson Greaves alongside Shelley Henning, Will Peltz, and Moses Jacob Storm. Nelson started off, answering the question of where the idea came from:
“The idea of setting a movie entirely on a computer was Timur’s [Bekmambetov]. We were talking in the office one night, and suddenly it clicked for us that it was a horror movie. You use the limitations of the computer the same way The Blair Witch Project used the limitations of a single camera. It all suddenly made sense.”
It certainly is an interesting idea, and might just be the shot in the arm that found footage needs. Shelley Henning told us how they got the scares right:
“We had Nelson and Leo [director Levan Gabriadze] in an earpiece, and they would talk to us or send us messages in real time that would startle us in real time. I was having trouble stopping and starting due to the emotional ride, so I asked if we could just do the whole thing in one take. After a few odd looks around the table, Nelson and Leo both thought it would be amazing. We did a really good job improvising, which was something they were looking for. It came with its own challenges, and filming from start to finish throughout the day could be exhausting, but I prefered it that way. Things would happen you never planned on happening.”
Moses Jacob Storm elaborated:
“We didn’t have to worry about getting the camera setup or time to think about what you are going to do. You just have to interact with the people right in front of you. It also helped the emotional state to just be beaten and battered and emotionally drained by the end.”
Will Peltz concluded:
“I was initially against it, but it turned out to be really nice. As an actor, we didn’t have to ramp ourselves for a take. It wasn’t a situation where they would say, “alright, now you are terrified, action!” There was a natural build to it and a real weight.”
Given the film’s unique style, this might just open the door for found footage to be fresh again. Look for for me in the theaters when Unfriended opens on April 17th!