‘Insidious’: Back To The Further Part III (Movie Review)
Insidious: Chapter 3: 2 ½ out of 5
I guess it would be fair to call Insidious: Chapter 3 a summer surprise. The first film from 2010 was a sleeper hit, which found the team behind Saw (director James Wan and co-writer Leigh Whannell) joining forces with the guys behind Paranormal Activity (director Oren Peli and producer Jason Blum). The second film from 2013 was a disaster. While everyone returned, it felt more like an obligation that had some clever ideas but not the heart of Wan, who was busy raking in acclaim for The Conjuring, released a few months prior. By all accounts, Chapter 3 should have been terrible. To my surprise, while the original is still much better, minor issues do not hold this chapter of Insidious too far back from being effective enough for what it is.
At this point, it is best to understand that Insidious is a loud music/big jump scare type of film. I was happy to applaud the first film for the way it relied on these sorts of moments, but felt like it earned them. The second film went over-the-top to the point of laughter. This third film does not necessarily dial anything back, but the storyline, however familiar, maintains a steady focus. As far as scaring the audience goes, Insidious tends to work best at playing “Where’s Waldo”. Often times you get characters returning to an area they looked at moments before and a dark presence is now with them. How things go from there leads to big music moments and jarring jumps that could be seen as cheap, but they tend to work for these films.
It would be easy to say Insidious is a cheat because of this method, but that’s where the story comes in. Again, this is not the most original tale, but it does enough to justify the film’s existence. The first thing to note about the plot is that it’s an origin story. This film is set a few years before the first two films and does not involve the Lambert family. Instead, the focus is on in Shaye’s character, Elise Rainier, and how she came to become the psychic that would use her gift to thwart dangerous supernatural entity. Shaye throws herself into this role at this point and while the film even borders on going too far with what kind of psychic badass she is supposed to be, it is actually pretty fun to see a horror movie hero like her in action.
The other side of the plotting involves the Brenners. This is a family that recently lost their mother. As a result, Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney) is doing his best to look after his daughter Quinn (Stefanie Scott) and his son Alex (Tate Berney). Unfortunately, Quinn makes trouble for herself by attempting to contact her dead mother. We never actually see how she accomplishes this, but as you know, evil spirits love getting an opening. This leads the arrival of “The Man Who Can’t Breathe”, which is about as cool a name for a horror villain as it gets.
With James Wan busy taking over the world with Furious 7, Leigh Whannell has stepped up as both the writer and director this time around, in addition to once again co-starring as Specs, one half of the two-man team of ghostbusters, along with his partner Tucker (Angus Sampson). As a first time director familiar enough with his key collaborator from over the years, Whannell equips does what he can. It is unfortunate that the location is not all that interesting (a drab apartment building), but part of the joy in Insidious is keeping focus on places that really don’t seem to be all that haunted or inherently creepy. If anything, it is just a shame that we do not spend more time in “The Further”, the nether realm that serves as the home for so many evil spirits. I have similar thoughts on the film’s overall presentation, as it lacks the sort of extra layer of a directorial stamp to really make this film standout in a sea of other Blumhouse Productions.
Putting some of these gripes aside, the film more or less works due to an adherence to what makes for an effectively spooky time at the movies. The tension is solid, the jumps are fun, and the film is not devoid of a sense of humor. The actors do a good enough job with what is given to them, without ever stepping into self-parody. If anything, it is actually interesting to see the choice made in not making Quinn (a central character) too likable before crazy stuff starts happening to her. This is a character that gets really beat up over the course of the runtime and she seems like just a regular teenage girl to begin with.
Being a PG-13 feature like the previous entries, Insidious wins points for not having to be a gore-fest to go on top of what already works. While the film may not be breaking much in the way of new ground, it continues to work well with practically achieved scares, for the most part, and a level of simplicity as far as how to show audiences what matters. Once again, the only real problem is getting to see something that really stands out. Getting more time in “The Further” would have helped with that, but as it stands, this film is more like a decent attempt to say “boo”.
Insidious: Chapter 3 is not adding much to the realm of horror films, but it works as a fun enough continuation of the series. Dialing down an element that worked so well in the first and to an extent in the second by way of not having characters besides Elise that can naturally dive into other realms may have been a mistake in some ways, but the film seems to be riding the line of how to not retread familiar beats too much as it is. Regardless, there is some good horror fun to have, even if Chapter 3 is not the entry that will need too much revisiting. All of that said, it’s a big step up from Chapter 2.