Insidious: Chapter 3 Review
Reviewed by Lewis Hurst.
The Insidious franchise seems determined to become the next big horror franchise. The original Insidious was scary, frightening and wildly imaginative. Insidious Chapter 2 however, while still scary, seemed to lack the spark that made the first so watchable. With original director James Wan departing to make Fast and Furious 7, Aquaman and focus on making The Conjuring into a franchise, Insidious shifted hands to Leigh Whannell, making his directorial debut, to guide the franchise into the further, I mean future. With talks of Insidious Chapter 4 already occurring, focus lies on Insidious Chapter 3 to show the franchise deserves its sequels and the time and attention of horror fans, especially with Sinister, The Conjuring, Alien, Paranormal Activity, Ouija and Evil Dead all having sequels on the way.
Curiously choosing not to pick up on Chapter 2’s sequel hook (which teased the return of the Red Faced Demon from the first film), Chapter 3 instead makes itself a prequel, set three years before the Lambert family haunting in the original film. A teenage girl named Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) contacts the retired Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye reprising her role from the previous films) to help her make contact with the spirit of her deceased mother which she believes is guiding her. Elise, despite struggling with the suicide of her husband, takes a liking to the girl and decides to break her vow to never use her gift to contact the dead. Upon doing so, Elise is attacked by the ghost of Parker Crane who has sworn to kill Elise if she continues to use her gift (fans will enjoy the continuity as this comes to pass in the first instalment). Elise then refuses to help Quinn and warns her not to try and contact the dead on her own as all of them will hear her. Quinn is later hit by a car and left bed-ridden at home as her legs recover. Quinn then begins to experience supernatural events and haunting by a demon. Desperate, Quinn’s father (Dermot Mulroney) begs Elise for help. Elise however is uncertain if she can help and must find her own inner strength to not just confront her own demons, but the one haunting Quinn as well.
The plot of Insidious Chapter 3 is certainly not its strongest aspect. The film is seemingly held back by the decision to be a prequel. While this opens up the film to involve Elise, who’s seemingly become the franchise’s main character, more in the plot due to her not being dead it also raises issues with securing the right amount of threat. With the audience knowing Elise won’t die, the film finds it significantly hard to try and leave the audience in suspense when Elise is in danger. We know Parker Crane won’t kill Elise in this film because he does so in the first film, so where’s the suspense in the sequences when he does try to? The film’s suspense should come from Quinn and the sequences in which she is in danger are certainly the more suspenseful. It’s a shame the film forgets this at times. If the franchise is to continue having Elise as the protagonist, it would be smart to make future films set after Chapter 2 and either bring Elise back from the dead or introduce demons that can “kill” ghosts to add threat. But, that said, Elise’s coming death also supplies the film with some of its best scenes. Scenes where Elise is hopeful about her future have a bittersweet feel when the audience knows what comes next for her.
But then again, while a well crafted plot can make a good horror film great, the plot ultimately doesn’t matter if the scares don’t deliver. Luckily Chapter 3 has these in abundance. It should be noted that those looking for a slower, suspenseful horror flick should probably adjust their expectations for this film. It doesn’t have a sense of growing unease like The Babadook nor does its build up of suspense make the film difficult to watch like Sinister. Insidious Chapter 3 is all about the jump scares making this purely a popcorn horror flick. But yet that isn’t a bad thing. Quite a few horror fans can be very dismissive of films that rely on jump scares viewing them as cheap, but in my experience a well crafted jump scare can make a horror film scarier and actually more enjoyable. Chapter 3 smartly plays with audience expectations with this. The suspense builds and the awareness a jump scare is coming is great and then, smartly, the scare never comes from where you expect it to. Let’s just say that you shouldn’t be worried if the monster is under your bed and should be more aware of other directions. Like the previous two films, Chapter 3 builds suspense masterfully in certain sequences, with the two scariest scenes being particularly memorable. A sequence where Elise encounters the demon in her own home by following its footsteps and a sequence where Quinn is attacked by the demon in broad daylight with the demon closing curtains and doors to slowly send the room into darkness are certainly going to linger in the memory. I’m not ashamed to admit there was several times in which I screamed loudly when the film took me by surprise, and this is as a huge horror fan.
Every horror movie requires a strong antagonist/monster and Insidious Chapter 3 tries to do this. Unlike the second film, which made the Bride in Black/Parker Crane less threatening by revealing the back-story, the back-story of the demon in this film is never explained much like the demon in the first film which in turn makes it even scarier. The design of the demon, while not as memorable as the Red Faced Demon, works well. Presented as a rotting corpse wearing a breathing mask, it’s visibly “scary” enough without its noise. The demon’s breathing is unnerving and, like Red Faced Demon’s claws, is an audio cue it’s somewhere about which instantly manages to get you on edge. Also, I’ll just mention the demon’s footprints which result in one of the film’s more unsettling horror moments. Scenes where Quinn is in danger are also terrifying due to one simple fact, Quinn can’t run. She has to stay put. It adds a nice new level of scares to the haunting as Quinn is trapped and suffers for it.
As for the film’s cast, it’s a horror film so expecting Oscar worthy performances here is misguided, but everyone does a great job. Lin Shaye gets special credit for giving a great performance and, guided by some great writing, makes Elise one of horror’s better female protagonists. Seeing a 71 year old actress tackle demons and ghosts on screen in some surprisingly action filled sequences is slightly inspiring and shows you don’t have to be young and pretty to get the good parts in a horror movie. If the franchise continues, Elise could come very close to rivalling Ellen Ripley (Alien) and Sidney Prescott (Scream) as some of horror’s best female protagonists.
Perhaps a small complaint about the film is its treatment of its supporting cast. Quinn’s best friend Maggie and her neighbour Hector, with who it’s implied he and Quinn share a mutual crush, vanish from the film as soon as the supernatural occurrences begin in earnest. While some may be glad of the absence of “teen drama” it’s a shame to see character dropped suddenly. The same also applies for Quinn’s younger brother Alex who you could be forgiven for forgetting exists at several points in the film due to appearing very rarely before vanishing. Perhaps more scenes with these characters will show up on a future DVD/Blu-Ray release (horror movies are fond of their extended cuts on home media), if not it’s an example of pretty poor writing on the part of the screenwriters.
Summing up, Insidious Chapter 3 is a pretty decent entry in the franchise and certainly shows that the story can continue without the Lambert family by making Elise the new protagonist. The film is sufficiently scary to be entertaining and while it won’t break the mould or make any significant additions to the genre, it’s a well made horror flick that’s at least worth a watch on a dark night. This trip into the further is not one you’ll regret taking.