It takes more than just consistency for a franchise to simply belong to a single character. For example, Star Wars is viewed (at least movie-wise) as the story of the Skywalker family, despite R2-D2 and C-3PO being the only major characters to appear in every single installment. But when people think of Insidious, the Blumhouse franchise gearing up for a fourth installment this October, one major character that tends to stand out is Lin Shaye's pivotal medium, Elise Rainier.
Elise has been through quite a lot, which is something she seemed ready for when she first became a medium, until she quickly learned the terrors of connecting with the afterlife. Elise, who died in the first chapter and returned as a ghost in the second, appeared as a fresh-faced, troubled medium who must guide a new family through the horrific events that come to pass in Insidous 4.
The film's writer and director, Leigh Whanell said of Elise:
"It's an origin story, in a way, for [Elise]. You see how she pulls herself out of this depression, in a way, and becomes this character that you see in the first film. This kind of happy, well-adjusted medium. She starts in a pretty dark place."
Everyone in the film has lost someone: even Elise, who we find in the throes of depression at the beginning of the film due to the recent death of her husband. Whanell felt that starting with a clean slate, especially for a character like Elise who is primarily responsible for moving the story of the entire franchise along. "(Loss) is a big theme of the movie," said Shaye. "I think that in some ways that makes it the scariest film of the three because it deals with something personal to all of us."
"Needless to say, I'm very grateful that he brought me back alive. And so is my family," joked Shaye. The actress went on to discuss taking on the beginning of Elise's story, and the planning that went in to the character from the very beginning.
It was totally fabulous. As an actress you try to look for the beginning ... it gave me the opportunity to really explore, for other people as well as myself, who this woman is. When we did the first one, Angus and Leigh came over for dinner and we discussed who Elise might be. And I made up more backstory - did I have children, was I married, did I have a garden, did I have pets... all that kind of normal stuff that helps fill in on the beginning of things.
Elise has held a place as the guide of the story, who the protagonists of the Insidious franchise - always a family of some sort - follow, trust, and take advice from, even in the afterlife. The character not being present in the movies simply wouldn't work, in my opinion: while many might view Elise as a character that supports and moves the story along, I sincerely believe that Elise is the pivotal character that Insidious revolves around. These families (the Lamberts, and now the Brenners) drift in and out of Elise's life, but Elise is always present, always aware, and often unwillingly in contact with the movie's villains.
Her strong connection to the supernatural and the empathy that simply explodes from her character is what makes Elise our heroine, in a way. She is always present, she is always making decisions, and though we may have a wide-eyed new protagonist in the talented Stephanie Scott, the story of Insidious is almost completely the story of Elise's life and death as a medium.
We've seen Elise as a young woman before, portrayed by Lindsay Saim. The Elise we're about to meet, though, is at a point in her life that we are not familiar with, and Shaye is more than excited to tell the story:
But this movie, the way the story was written, and it's such a beautiful story... for all of the characters, this theme of loss. When you meet Elise in the story - I even took it a couple steps further than what Leigh expected - even wardrobe-wise, who I look... and to watch this character unfold throughout the film was really a treasure for me.
I always try to find the arc in everything, whether it's one scene, ten scenes whatever. But this really gave me this beautiful arc of flowering as the character. I'm forever grateful for that.
What's more, Lin Shaye, much like Elise, has had supernatural experiences before. Whadell, who also plays Elise's assistant specs, couldn't contain his excitement when talking about the character's role in the new film.
I hope [Lin] doesn't mind me saying this, but she has a couple of supernatural experiences of her own that she doesn't tell anybody about, that she sort of shared with me... and I could really see this personal connection. After making three movies, it's hard to tell where Lin stops and Elise begins. So much about Lin's life correlates with who Elise is.
It's interesting to see an unconventional character such as Elise being the driving force of the Insidious storyline, but it certainly is a welcome change. From beginning to end, this is most certainly Elise Rainier's franchise, and whether she is dead or alive, Insidious simply would not be the same without her.