Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Frightening Images, some Language and Thematic Elements
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Written by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye & Ashton Moio
I consider 2011’s INSIDIOUS to be the modern-day POLTERGEIST (in spite of that needless remake that’s in theaters right now). I remember when I first saw INSIDIOUS on opening night in April 2011. The theater was packed. The audience was reacting extremely well to every scare and spooky detail. The film worked flawlessly for me and I’ve revisited it many times since. In 2013, we received INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. Though it had a few original ideas, the film was a lesser retread through familiar territory. Wisely, Leigh Whannell (once again writing this installment, but also directing this time around) has made the newest CHAPTER into a prequel. The end result is made of far better quality than most third installments of successful horror franchises. CHAPTER 3 doesn’t simply play the same tune, even if it hits familiar notes. Though it has problems in one of the subplots, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 should satisfy fans of the first two films.
The story takes place “a few years” before the events of the first INISIDIOUS. Quinn Brenner is a teenage girl who has recently lost her mother to cancer. Desperate to contact her dead mom, Quinn goes to former psychic Elise. When Elise isn’t able to contact Quinn’s deceased parent, the elderly woman warns the naïve teenager against trying to contact the dead. Her reasoning is that when you call out to one of them, all of them can hear you. Quinn stupidly ignores Elise’s warning and winds up making friends with a sinister presence that begins feeding off of her life. Elise must struggle with reentering the profession that she gave up so long ago in order to save Quinn’s life and time is running short.
One thing right of the gate that I appreciate about CHAPTER 3 is that it doesn’t play up the Darth Maul-looking demon from the first film or the creepy ghost woman from the second. Instead, we get an entirely new threat that’s sucking the life of its victim in a pretty creepy way. This is essentially another child-in-peril story, but the child happens to be a teenager and the peril is something that we haven’t seen before in this universe. Though Quinn is a dumb character who makes the stupid clichéd horror movie mistakes, young Stefanie Scott makes her into a sympathetic character. Dermot Mulroney is off-and-on as Quinn’s father. Sometimes, he plays up the whole “I’m an old person and don’t understand your kid’s newfangled blogs and such” shtick a bit too much. Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell are back as the obligatory comic relief paranormal researchers and just as entertaining as ever.
Unfortunately for us, Quinn’s life being threatened by the supernatural presence only makes up half of the running time. The rest of the film is dedicated to Lin Shaye’s Elise having a midlife crisis. Her scenes are when this movie gets tedious. Imagine if 1982’s POLTERGEIST only focused on the haunted family for half of the running time and the other half was dedicated to psychic Tangina getting in touch with her inner self to rescue Carol-Anne from the other side. Tobe Hooper’s classic haunted house story wouldn’t be nearly as frightening, creative or interesting if that were the case. That’s precisely the biggest problem with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3. Other than giving Lin Shaye’s side character way too much screen time, this subplot also serves to hammer in needless connections to the first two films (including a cameo that made a few people in the theater laugh). When this subplot eventually melds together with Quinn’s storyline, the climax isn’t fully satisfying as things nearly go into TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL level of cheesiness.
Seeing as this is an INSIDIOUS movie, we do get our obligatory trip into the Further. This provides the best imagery in the whole damn film, including a couple of scares that legitimately got me. However, I couldn’t help but notice that CHAPTER 3 relies too much on loud noises. I found myself tensing up more at the prospect of nearly going deaf than at any of the freaky pop-outs that a scene might hold. Whannell phones in most of these scares with the same damn technique and obvious “Boo!” moments are telegraphed from a mile away. Herein lies the problem with these INSIDIOUS sequels. The first INSIDIOUS perfectly balanced loud freak-outs with quietly terrifying moments. If you’ll recall the last shot of that film is someone gasping and it’s one of the scariest horror film endings that I’ve ever scene. That quiet gasp did far more than any scream or loud pitch of violins. This film has a horrifying shot near the end that could have sent the theater goers out with shivers down their spines as opposed to blasting them out of their seats for one last cheap jolt. Instead, Whannell goes for the latter and shows just how predictable this series has become.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 is far better than it has any right to be. I really dug that Whannell was taking the material in a new direction and telling what seemed to be a crazy standalone story in the INSIDIOUS universe. However, he kind of botches that by spending way too much time on a less interesting subplot and using cheap scares as opposed to letting mood or atmosphere sink in. This is definitely better than most third installments of blockbuster horror series, but it’s also a definite downgrade from the first (and even the second) movie. All that being said, CHAPTER 3 is likely to please less-discerning fans of the series. I just hope they keep this as the okay closure to a pretty enjoyable horror trilogy, instead of blowing it out of proportion with four more sequels.