REVIEW: Insidious: Chapter 3

My favorite thing about Insidious (2010) was actress Lin Shaye as the high-spirited medium, Elise Rainer, who was able to immediately assess the circumstances of what is now known as “The Lambert Haunting.” Using humor to state the obvious (“I don’t think bad wiring is the problem here”), she then delivered the one sentence that would define this horror movie franchise: “it’s not your house that’s haunted. It’s your son.”

Not even death could keep Elise down in the sequel, Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013). Sure, the character appeared in flashbacks portrayed by a younger actress, but she also appeared in the present as a spirit in another dimension she called, The Further, “a dark realm filled with the tortured souls of the dead.” Elise has always established the rules for the series. As ridiculous as they may sound, you believe what this dedicated and determined woman has to say.

It’s really screenwriter Leigh Whannell (Saw, Dead Silence) who established the rules for Elise. And for the Insidious franchise, they open a world of possibilities. Basically, you can visit The Further via astral projection or, as we learn in Insidious: Chapter 3, a near death experience. But you must be careful because the spirits of The Further crave life and will try to either inhabit your body or come back with you. “Others have a more insidious purpose…”

As Insidious: Chapter 2 demonstrated, you can use these rules to craft a fairly nifty mystery revolving around who or what enters our world from The Further and how you can send it or them back. Insidious: Chapter 3 doesn’t so much build on this idea as it does add another layer to them. It does this because it is a prequel that reveals Elise’s backstory, one that weaves in and out of the other movies and her relationships with the other characters.

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Those other characters include a pair that is probably more popular with audiences than Elise: ghost hunters Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Whannell). Their fans get a treat in Insidious: Chapter 3 when the movie depicts their first meeting with Elise. Scenes like this that include familiar elements are the best part of the latest movie. Scenes without them are more generic to horror movies, particularly ghost stories, and tend to drag.

In Insidious: Chapter 3, the framing story is that of Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a high school senior still mourning the death of her mother and trying desperately to reach out to her in the afterlife. Her father, Sean (Dermot Mulroney), is struggling to keep the family together in the face of increasingly strange occurrences in and around their urban apartment. It seems a dangerous supernatural entity has attached itself to Quinn and wants to permanently drag her into The Further with it.

Only in a movie like this can the details of the above paragraph not be considered a spoiler. With the word “insidious” in the title, you know by now exactly what to expect. That’s a testament to the foundation the franchise has laid. Sure, this chapter seems a little more B-movie, without the heavy-hitting cast of the previous two (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey), but it’s an enjoyable mix of old and new elements.

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Here’s the real question: is it scary? Surprisingly, there are more jump scares for me in this one than the other two combined. Director James Wan is absent from this installment; however, first time director Whannell seems to have learned a thing or two from him. There’s some stylish camerawork, particularly in exterior establishing shots, and he relies less on trickery like music to jolt the audience. Let me explain…

My favorite scare in Insidious was when Renai Lambert (Byrne) slowly entered the baby’s room and somebody was standing behind the curtains. When I re-watched the movie recently, I wasn’t really paying attention at this point and I still jumped out of my seat because of the sudden music stinger that accompanied the scene. That made me wonder how much I would have originally jumped had the audio been silent.

In Insidious: Chapter 3, many of the scares do not include music. They rely more upon visual elements to provide the jumps. This is interesting because the same person, Joseph Bishara, composed the music for all three movies. Over time, though, the sounds have become less intrusive to what’s happening onscreen, letting the action dictate reaction. The music itself was almost a character in Insidious; it no longer is.

I never expected Insidious: Chapter 3 to be as good as it is, but it is every bit as good as the other two. The problem for me is that while I enjoy watching these movies, the franchise in general is not a favorite. So when I say it’s as good as the others, it’s relative. What that means for you is that if you’re a fan, you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re not a fan, it’s still a solid entry in the series and there’s enjoyment to be had.

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