Prior to the events of the Lambert family haunting, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is out of the psychic medium business, but reluctantly decides to use her spiritual abilities to contact the dead so she can help Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a teenage girl whose mother passed away from cancer. Quinn believes her mother has been trying to contact her, but Elise strongly warns her that if you reach out to one of the dead, you reach out to all of them – both good and evil.
After the reading, Quinn begins to hear and see strange occurrences from a dark figure equipped with a breathing mask, which eventually leads to her being involved in a car accident. Now stuck at home, wheelchair bound with two broken legs, the paranormal occurrences grow more and more intense, and when the figure starts to use physical harm, Quinn’s father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) meets with Elise who tells him that something evil may have attached itself to his daughter.
You gotta hand it to Blumhouse Productions founder Jason Blum. The quality of films have been hit-or-miss. Some are good – Paranormal Activity, The Bay, The Lords of Salem, Sinister, Whiplash (which earned him a Best Picture nomination) – and some bad – the Paranomal Activity sequels, Dark Skies, The Purge, Ouija, Area 51. The Purge: Anarchy and the Insidious franchise sit somewhere in between in the decent area. Regardless of the quality, Blum’s proven himself to be quite a smart producer in how he’s been able to package and market low-budget film after low-budget film, and turn them all into box office hits.
The Insidious films aren’t anything special. In fairness to them, I’ve seen far worse atrocities out of the horror genre, just in this year alone, but they’re not as good as The Conjuring or Oculus (which was executive produced by Blum) or some of the smaller horror gems we’ve gotten in the past few years such as The Babadook or It Follows. They’re decently creepy films, bolstered mostly by franchise director James Wan’s effective use of atmosphere and a talented cast, but they tend to lose steam by the beginning of the third act.
Still, like the comedy genre, horror films are notoriously known for their crappy sequels, and they’re all the more aggravating ’cause studios will milk any franchise they got all the way out to “So and So: Part 30″ if they can. Just look at any other horror franchise; it’s difficult for the second films and so on to be just okay, let alone great. Most recently, a great film like The Conjuring took a massive nose dive into crap with its spinoff Annabelle. Odd as it sounds, though, you can consider the Insidious series a minor success (quality-wise, that is, the dough its raked in obviously makes it a huge success) in that, while not a horror classic by any stretch, its films have been able to hang around as decently frightening, and continues to do so with Insidious: Chapter 3.
This third time around, director James Wan, who was busy directing Furious 7, has stepped away from the director’s chair and has been replaced by his longtime writing collaborator Leigh Whannell in his directorial debut. Whannell does commit the same missteps the first two films made. There’s an overabundant use of loud sound effects to accompany the jump scares (to his credit, he thankfully avoids having the jump scares turn out to be some stupid cat or friend or phone ring) and the third act once again loses steam with another trip into “The Further” to rescue the victim. And while not entirely necessary, the demon’s lack of backstory may leave you wondering what exactly is the point of the breathing mask.
That said, for a first-time job as director, Whannell does a solid job here. There’s room for improvement, of course, but he’s clearly been doing his homework working under Wan, a filmmaker who knows how to create mood and atmosphere appropriate for a horror film. Despite the annoyingly obligatory loud sound effects which gets old after a while, Whannell realizes silence can be twice as effective when used fittingly and when he applies it here, along with some nifty camerawork, the results are genuinely suspenseful.
Elevating the film is a talented cast that you normally don’t get come the third film of a series. By the time the franchise starts running out of gas, you expect a cast of either nobodies or one or two “Where the hell have they been for the past 20 years?” has-beens, not a consistently dependable character actor like Dermot Mulroney. Once a recurring Farrelly Brothers actress now popping up in horror films (fitting since her brother Robert produced A Nightmare on Elm Street, which she also appeared in), Insidious mainstay Lin Shaye (returning along with Whannell and Angus Sampson, as Specs and Tucker, who provide small but effective comic relief) is given more substance here with her character Elise Rainier than in either of the previous two films. Shaye brings sadness, vulnerability and weariness to Elise, but also gives her strength and resolve amidst the toll her “gift” has taken on her. Her performance is the film’s highlight.
What works in this film is the sense of loss and grief found within it. Each of the primary characters is dealing with a personal loss, Mulroney’s wife and Stefanie Scott’s mother, and Shaye’s husband. The way the characters’ pain from losing a loved one is conveyed by the three of them gives the film more emotional weight than any third entry of a horror franchise has any right to have.
Though it’s far from perfect, Insidious: Chapter 3 is solidly directed by longtime screenwriter/debut director Leigh Whannell and the strong work from Dermot Mulroney, Lin Shaye and Stefanie Scott help compensate for the film’s mistakes. You’d expect a franchise this deep into its run to wear out its welcome, but the performances, creepy atmosphere and some effective scares provide just enough to keep the series wheels running.
I give Insidious: Chapter 3 a B- (★★★).