Directed by: Leigh Whannell.
Written by: Leigh Whannell.
Starring: Dermot Mulroney (Sean Brenner), Stefanie Scott (Quinn Brenner), Angus Sampson (Tucker), Leigh Whannell (Specs), Lin Shaye (Elise Rainier), Tate Berney (Alex Brenner), Michael Reid MacKay (The Man Who Can't Breathe), Steve Coulter (Carl), Hayley Kiyoko (Maggie).
There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to horror sequels mainly because it’s hard to fool audiences with the same story twice –let alone three or more times. The original Insidious was a ridiculous horror movie – full of silly plotting, but is also wonderfully creepy and downright scary – directed with an overload of style by James Wan, with a screenplay by Leigh Whannell, who knew it was ridiculous, and had fun with it anyway. It was a wonderful horror movie – one of the best mainstream ones in the past few years. Insidious Chapter 2 wasn’t as good – it did feel more like a repeat than anything else, although once again, the film was wonderfully directed by Wan. James Wan has left the series, as director anyway, in the third installment – in order to do Furious 7 – by his longtime collaborator, Whannell (who wrote Saw, Dead Silence and the first two Insidious movies for Wan) makes his directorial debut for the third installment. No, Whannell is no Wan behind the camera – I hope Wan doesn’t get lost in blockbusters, and comes back to horror at some point, where he truly excels – but he does a decent enough job copying the style, and giving the audience some solid scares in the movie. The movie never quite takes off however – never drew me enough to make me forget how silly it was. The scares work – but not much else.
Although its entitled Chapter 3, this is actually a prequel to the first two Insidious movies – presumably it takes place sometime in the mid-2000s, judging on the cell phones the teenagers in the film use. It stars Stefanie Scott as Quinn Brenner, a high school senior, still reeling from the death of her mother, and the fact that quiet father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) has trouble expressing his feelings, and expects her to take care of her younger brother. Quinn seeks out Elise (Lin Shaye) – our link to the previous movies – because she wants to contact her mother on the other side. Elise wants to help – but says she cannot – it may kill her to enter the darkness again. But she advises Quinn to stop trying to contact her mother. After all, when you call out to one of the dead – they can all hear you. After a horrific car accident breaks both of her legs, she is stuck in the family apartment – and something is after her.
All of the Insidious movies have been ridiculous in terms of plot – but the first movie worked because its character felt real and the movie was genuinely unsettling and scary. Wan is an expert at horror movie atmosphere – and rarely relies on blood and gore to try and scare, but rather likes to build up the tension gradually. Insidious worked because of this – and Insidious Chapter 2 comes close to working because of the style, and the residual good will we felt towards the cast. Unfortunately, those are two things lacking in Chapter 3. The style isn’t quite as good – while Whannell tries to follow Wan’s lead in building atmosphere, he isn’t quite up to the task. In terms of characters, it’s a pleasure to watch character actress Lin Shaye continue to steal these movies – when the movie concentrates on the other characters, it is nowhere near as good. Mulroney is mistakes blank stares with subtle depth, and Scott isn’t given much to do except look pretty or scared or both throughout the movie.
Perhaps Whannell would have been better served to try a new series for his directorial debut. Stepping into the shoes of Wan was too big for him. He is a decent enough director – he may well direct a fine horror movie, and soon – but he cannot replicate Wan’s style completely. Nor should he want to. Insidious Chapter 3 delivers the scares the fans of the series expect – and not much else. It isn’t a horrible film to be sure, but like many horror sequels, we already know what will happen when we walk in – and the film does nothing really to surprise us.