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Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 3

Once more into the Further, dear friends.

Review by Brandon Wolfe

For a duo that earned their stripes with the disreputable gristmill of the Saw franchise, Directors James Wan and Leigh Whannell have turned out to be adept horror stylists. The two embarked on a successful second act of more supernatural, less torture-driven fright fare with 2010’s Insidious, about a family bedeviled by a Darth Maul impersonating demon fixated on their young son. Though haunted-house and possession thrillers have become dime-a-dozen in recent years, Insidious was uncommonly well-done. It crafted a thick air of foreboding, offered some genuinely unsettling imagery and featured unnecessarily strong performances from Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as the beleaguered parents. Wan went on to direct the even better spook-house thriller The Conjuring on his own before reuniting with Whannell for the less successful Insidious: Chapter 2. Now that Wan has moved on to the big leagues with Furious 7 and is in the running for just about every major film in the hopper these days, Whannell has the Insidious franchise all to himself, and with it the chance to either prove his own horror acumen or reveal that he was always just swimming in Wan’s wake.

Whannell acquits himself mostly well with Insidious: Chapter 3. A prequel to the first two films (begging the question of if this should actually be called Insidious: Chapter 0), the film focuses on a completely different family plagued by a completely different entity. Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) has recently lost her mother to cancer and is desperate to contact her spirit, which she has attempted to do on her own. Finding little success, she turns to a professional in the form of Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye), the medium who helped the Lambert family in the other two films. Elise has recently lost her husband and, though a skilled psychic, has had too many ugly experiences with the next world to continue to dabble in that field, so she is not receptive to Quinn’s pleas, even if she is sympathetic. Elise warns Quinn against reaching out to the world of the dead, but the damage has already been done. A malevolent presence has attached itself to Quinn, causing her to break both of her legs after being hit by a car and then proceeding to torment her as she is bedridden and vulnerable. Quinn’s father (Dermot Mulroney) is already completely out of his depth as a family man since losing his wife, and since he can barely handle making breakfast, dealing with demonic forces is well beyond his capabilities. When the disturbances grow increasingly violent, the family turns to freelance ghost hunters Specs and Tucker (Whannell and Angus Sampson, also returning) before Elise finally decides that she is the only person able to save Quinn’s soul.

Insidious: Chapter 3 doesn’t offer much in the way of new material toward the series’ mythology. The Further, the shadowy realm of lost souls and vicious spooks, isn’t explored or explicated any deeper than it was in the previous entries. In fact, it seems simplified here into a generic netherworld rather than the plane of existence only accessible to the living via astral projection established by the earlier films. Also, the new characters are no great shakes. Quinn is an unremarkable protagonist and her Rear Window-esque immobile helplessness, apart from a couple of scenes, feels a touch underexploited. Mulroney’s dad gets a couple of alright dad one-liners, but is otherwise saddled with a thankless role, one that makes the audience wistful for the much stronger work Byrne and Wilson turned in before. The film also has some major pacing problems, particularly in the early goings. The initial meeting between Quinn and Elise drags on laboriously for what feels like an eternity, and then when we subsequently follow Quinn’s daily routine, both at home and at a crucial audition, it is criminally dull. There’s the slow-burn approach and then there’s sheer protracted tedium, and the earlier scenes unmistakably fall into the latter category. By the time Quinn is talking about college prospects with her sprightly bestie (Hayley Kiyoko), we are positively chomping at the bit for something, anything, supernatural to occur.

But once the creepiness finally commences, the film gets in gear and mostly stays there. Whannell’s ability to craft effectively freaky moments is on point despite Wan’s absence. Chapter 3 isn’t as atmospherically unnerving as the original Insidious – though it is a step up from the plodding, unremarkable Chapter 2 – but the film still functions commendably at building dread and producing some disquieting visuals (honestly, that these films are rated PG-13 is a little nuts given the intensity of their scare tactics). Make no mistake, this is still a horror film that leans very heavily on jolting jump scares rather than the chill-your-bones dexterity exhibited recently by this spring’s fantastic It Follows. However, though the film mimics the experience of a Haunted Mansion ride more than the immersion into a true nightmare, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that brand of cheap thrills, especially considering that this is a much more skillful instance of this particular strain of horror film than most of what rolls off the assembly line. This is the sort of horror film that makes for a fun communal experience with an excitable audience.

The MVP of the film is Shaye, whose Elise is given much more prominence than ever before. Shaye is an old pro (perhaps most memorable as the vile landlady from Kingpin) who can do haunted intensity like nobody’s business, but when she delves into the Further for the film’s climax, Whannell lets her cut loose a bit and have some fun, showcasing a Ripley-like bravado when fighting off the ghouls standing in her way. Elise was killed off in the final moments of the original film (she appeared as a ghost in the second film), but this film’s prequel status functions as a recalibration to make her the driving force of the franchise, which isn’t a terrible idea. Less successful are the comedic stylings of Specs and Tucker, whose variety of comic relief is so inert and half-hearted as to add virtually nothing to the proceedings. It’s not that the characters are unfunny; that would at least be something. Absolutely no effort is expended toward making them anything. The gist of their contributions seems to be that Tucker is sort of weird and Specs is standing next to him.

There’s no getting around the fact Insidious: Chapter 3 is just another Insidious film, with all that that entails. But on that level, it works because the Insidious brand is stronger than most of its contemporaries. Its no-frills, shamelessly ooga-booga approach works, and given the comparative ambitiousness of the less enjoyable Chapter 2 (a film that had some neat Back to the Future Part II-style crisscrossing touches, yet was otherwise content to be a limp take on The Shining), 3’s meat-and-potatoes functionality is gratifying. With the utterly useless Poltergeist remake currently in theaters (though probably not many by now), Insidious: Chapter 3 stands as easily the most enjoyable horror entry on the market right now. It won’t be long before the Insidious franchise wears out its welcome through repetition, but for the time being, traipsing through the Further still entitles us to one or two good scares.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.


Anonymous said…
It looked to be a good film until the audience started to talk , laugh, comment, narraten loudly to the film disturbing the peace. After 40 minutes it was intolerable & I left the screening.
Never again at that theater. Free screening or not.

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