SAW and INSIDIOUS’ Leigh Whannell Talks His “Passion Project” STEM

In which the vengeful protagonist has a real chip over his shoulder.

After scripting the original Saw, co-scripting a pair of its sequels and writing the first two Insidious films, Leigh Whannell assumed the director’s chair for Insidious: Chapter 3. As his follow-up, he opted out of helming the forthcoming Insidious: The Last Key and instead took the reins of his original sci-fi thriller screenplay Stem.

“It represents a few years of my life,” Whannell says of Stem, which at one point was to be directed by fellow Australians The Spierig Brothers (Peter and Michael, who later took on this month’s Saw reboot Jigsaw). Horror specialists Blumhouse Productions wound up teaming with Australia’s Goalpost Pictures on the movie, which shot Down Under in Melbourne earlier this year. “It’s set a few years in the future, when technology is much more prevalent and computers control everything from your car to your house. The central character, Grey, is a bit of a technophobe; he’s an old-school guy who doesn’t get along with computers, and they don’t get along with him.

“He gets carjacked; he and his wife are pulled out of a car and shot, and his wife dies while he is left a quadriplegic,” Whannell continues. “The story revolves around Grey having a world’s-first operation where a computer chip is installed in his neck to essentially cure his quadriplegia. His paralysis is completely cured and he can walk again, but once that happens, he discovers that the chip can actually help him find the guys who murdered his wife.”

Logan Marshall-Green, a familiar face from Prometheus, The Invitation and Spider-Man: Homecoming, plays Grey, and the cast also includes Betty Gabriel (Georgina in Get Out), Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie and Clayton Jacobson. “It’s a real passion project for me,” Whannell says, “and the great thing about Blumhouse is that if you have a passion project no one else wants to make, and the price is right, they really let you do it. They allow you to have creative control, and you get to see your ideas come to life. Stem was definitely that kind of situation.”

And as opposed to the spectral spookery of the Insidious films, he notes, it represents something of a return to the tone of his initial success. “If you go back to the first Saw, I would say Stem has more in common with that. Not so much in terms of storyline, but just in terms of it being a ticking-clock thriller. Insidious is very much a supernatural horror film that goes for that eerie vibe that movies like The Exorcist and The Changeling captured so well, whereas when we originally conceived the idea for Saw back in Australia, we were thinking of a real pulse-pounding thriller, something where you have a certain amount of time to do something or you’re fucked. That’s kind of what Stem is."