Insidious: Chapter 3 succeeds in delivering the scares

Gramercy Pictures

Gramercy Pictures

Horror sequels are often a dicey proposition because if film history is any indication, each sequel strains itself even more than the last to tell an interesting story that wasn’t already done, better, by the first film. 2010’s Insidious told a tight story of a family besieged by evil when their son slipped into a coma, helping open a portal for the spirits of the dead to return to an earthly plane. It was up to a psychic, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), to travel to The Further and bring the boy back while keeping demons at bay. The film had enough of an ending to stand on its own, but its success allowed the filmmakers to expand on that ending in Insidious: Chapter 2. In the process, they also managed to make Elise the central character of the films. But Elise met her fate at the end of the second film, so where to go from there?

Back in time, of course. I assumed Elise’s assistants Specs (Leigh Wannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) would carry on the series with Elise as a spiritual presence, but Insidious: Chapter 3 is actually a prequel story that takes place some time before the events of the first two films. In the new chapter, Elise is a broken woman. She has lost the love of her life, and refuses to use her “gift” anymore because of the danger that comes with it. A young girl, Quinn Brenner (Stefani Scott), shows up on Elise’s doorstep to ask for help in contacting her mother. Elise turns her away at first, but seeing the girl’s desperation and knowing she traveled some way to get there, she agrees to do a session with her. When Elise realizes the entity she is in contact with is not Quinn’s mother, she cuts the session short and sends the girl on her way.

Quinn, who is later severely injured in an accident and confined to her bed, begins hearing noises and seeing shadowy figures which she assumes is her mother trying to make contact. Her father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) doesn’t really believe in ghostly contact — and seems to want to pretend his wife didn’t exist so as to avoid the pain of her loss — but when their apartment suffers damage and Quinn is violently attacked in her room, Sean asks Elise (Quinn admitted she had visited Elise before her accident) to speak with Quinn. Elise does, realizes that there is a dangerous force attached to Quinn (it has half of her soul) but after an attack by her own spiritual adversary (the woman in black seen in the first two films), Elise refuses any more assistance. Elise’s little brother is a fan of a couple of internet ghost hunters, and Sean reluctantly calls them to help but soon discovers they are nothing but actors who have unwittingly made things worse with their “help.” Will Elise buck up and help save Quinn?

Of course she does, or there would be no way to explain her appearances in the first two movies!

Insidious: Chapter 3 is a rare thing in a film franchise. First, and foremost, the filmmakers have the balls to make a woman of a certain age the lead of a major film franchise — a horror franchise to boot! Lin Shaye has been around as a character actress since 1975’s Hester Street (credited on IMDB as “Whore”), and gained much more fame with the Farrelly Brothers films, particularly as the overly tanned Magda in There’s Something About Mary. She was just a supporting character in the first Insidious film, but really took center stage in Chapter 2, and now is the focal point of the franchise which is why they had to go back in time to make the new film.

Insidious: Chapter 3 successfully acts as a foundation for what we’ve already seen. tweet

The second accomplishment of the film is that writer Leigh Wannell, who has also taken over the directorial reins from James Wan (who was busy making Furious 7, but has a cameo in the film), has managed to construct a new story that successfully acts as a foundation for what we’ve already seen even though things like The Further and the woman in black are already established pieces of Elise’s backstory. We still don’t really know who the woman in black is or how Elise first ventured into The Further, but knowing the previous films, we’re already familiar with the concepts. Even better, the film works for newcomers as well just because those things are already a part of Elise’s history. You don’t have to have any prior knowledge of the first two movies to enjoy this one, and perhaps fans of the originals may be a little handicapped by already knowing how Elise’s story ends and may expect more from Chapter 3.

Insidious: Chapter 3 should be viewed as a starting point, at least for now, and anyone who hasn’t seen the originals should start here. This is the first time we meet Elise, the first time we see the woman in black (and other spooky faces that pop up later in Elise’s story), the first time we venture into The Further, and taken on its own merits, the film can stand as a comparable companion to the previous films. Whannell has constructed a decently creepy story with only a few minor plot holes, but overall the film delivers on the scares once again with a combination of physical effects over CGI, but just a touch too much volume on the musical cues for jump scares. Trust me, the quick edits to horrific images should be enough to scare the crap out of people without the KERAANG of a musical cue. I wish horror filmmakers (and studio bosses) would have enough faith in their images and their audiences to not resort to cheap scare tactics (the first movie was the most egregious while the second was the most restrained; this one falls somewhere in-between).

Gramercy Pictures

Gramercy Pictures

While Shaye holds the film together, Scott does a fine job of showing us her fear, particularly when she’s incapacitated for a large part of the film. Whannell and Sampson are the film’s comic relief when things start to get a bit too intense and it’s nice to see how they came to be partners with Elise by the end of the film, setting up further (hopefully) adventures for them. Mulroney, however, is woefully underused and a little too black and white, going from overbearing to concerned in the space of an edit. Patrick Wilson had a much better character to work with in the original films. There is also a subplot involving a neighbor boy who has a crush on Quinn, but he disappears rather quickly after a tease that assumes he will be part of the story.

Minor quibbles aside, Insidious: Chapter 3 is much more successful at scaring an audience than the rather hollow Poltergeist remake was. If you’re in the mood to be scared, then you can’t go wrong with Insidious: Chapter 3 (and don’t let the “3” of the title scare you away). Hopefully audiences will be eager to see the further adventures of Elise and her boys after this one.

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