A streamlined story and menacing villain make-up for Insidious: Chapter 3's imperfections - an eerie, albeit forgettable, horror movie.
Years prior to the The Lambert family haunting (depicted in Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2), Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) had retired from her life's work as a psychic medium. Fearing for her safety after a visit to the realm of tortured souls ("The Further"), Elise holed up in her home, refusing to aid the living in contacting the dead.
When seventeen-year-old Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) shows up on Elise's door, claiming that her deceased mother is trying to contact her, the psychic reluctantly agrees to help. Unfortunately, the reading does not go according to plan, and Elise discovers that an evil spirit (not her mother) is stalking Quinn. Hesitant to get involved, Elise turns Quinn away, but when the demonic spirit latches onto its young prey, the psychic must weigh her self-imposed exile (and possibly her life) against confronting the dark force that haunts Quinn.
From the twisted mind of (future Aquaman) director James Wan, Insidious managed to bridge the gap between horror movie lovers and casual filmgoers with a spooky ghost story, intriguing mythology, and emotional family drama. Wan's follow-up, Insidious: Chapter 2 was a relatively standard sequel, with less imagination and tension, that received a comparatively lukewarm response from critics (but still performed well at the box office). For the third chapter, Focus Features has drastically mixed up the formula, taking audiences back in time before the Lambert storyline for a prequel that follows franchise heroine Elise, directed by Insidious series co-writer Leigh Whannell.
Insidious: Chapter 3 marks Whannell's directorial debut and, subsequently, the prequel is weighed-down by clumsy execution: continuity errors and convoluted world-building, among other minor (as well as some major) shortcomings. Regardless, a streamlined story and menacing villain make-up for Insidious: Chapter 3's imperfections - an eerie, albeit forgettable, horror movie.
The plot follows familiar beats, but the inclusion of Insidious franchise characters and mythology adds a layer of intrigue and flavor to some tried-and-true genre staples. Fans of the ongoing series will find worthwhile backstory for the Elise character, along with fellow paranormal investigators Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson); there's also some fun easter egg-like references to cast members that appear later in the series. Viewers hoping for a film that is as connected to the larger series as Insidious and Insidious 2 will likely find Chapter 3 mostly stands on its own - making it more accessible to newcomers, but less impactful for returning fans.
Established Insidious viewers should be pleased with the portrayal and prequel setup of Elise Rainier, which allows Lin Shaye room to explore a trauma and vulnerability that helped prepare her ghost-hunting heroine for the trials to come later in the franchise storyline. Shaye, who has appeared in countless high-profile films over the course of 30 years in Hollywood (including There's Something About Mary and Snakes on a Plane), rarely gets to take the center stage, making several of her scenes in Insidious: Chapter 3 all the more impactful. In spite of some eye-rolling (albeit standard) horror movie dialogue, the actress makes the most of her chance to flesh Elise out - and, by the film's end, gets to showcase why Elise is the best in the paranormal business.
Elise shares the spotlight with Quinn for most of Insidious: Chapter 3; however, as Shaye's role expands over the course of the film, Scott is conversely given less to do. Quinn is introduced as a dynamic young woman trying to keep her life together after her mother's death, but as Elise begins to face her fears, Quinn is pushed to the side and confined (quite literally) to a horror damsel in need of rescue. Scott gives a competent performance, especially as she carries Chapter 3's story through Act 1, but is overshadowed in the latter half as Whannell abandons Quinn subplots and support characters that he originally spent precious screen time developing.
As a result, many characters are introduced with meaningful foundations on which to build arcs, even if only in relation to Quinn, but most are sidelined (or outright forgotten) in the final thirty minutes. Whannell may have been aiming for a more nuanced story, reflecting on personal struggle in the wake of life-changing loss, but either by studio pressure or directorial instinct, elected to strip the finale down to bare essentials. For that reason, instead of a worn-down single father, Dermot Mulroney is relegated to an impatient and then reactionary parental outline (as Sean Brenner), while Ashton Moio's Hector (Quinn's neighbor) is little more than hottie teen set dressing - the same brand of thin expository sounding board as Quinn's sassy friend, Maggie (played by Hayley Kiyoko).
As an actor, Whannell delivers where it counts, providing ample screen time and charm to his own paranormal investigator, Specs - as well as Angus Sampson's Tucker. Specs and Tucker (partnered with Elise in the other films) became a fan-favorite team, and Whannell provides the heroes with a fun origin story - one that helps connect the ill-equipped video bloggers to the quirky but experienced ghost hunters featured in prior films - all while servicing the present Chapter 3 plot and its scares. Lastly, following freaky appearances from Insidious' Lipstick-Face Demon and Chapter 2's Bride in Black, Chapter 3's demonic entity may be the most disturbing of the trio. Fortunately, Whannell doesn't expend much time trying to imbue the villain with backstory (an oft-criticized aspect of Chapter 2), focusing on fresh scares and scenes of carefully staged tension, instead.
Insidious: Chapter 3 isn't the most inventive entry in Whannell and Wan's series, but thanks to a well-deserved moment to shine for Elise (and Shaye), coupled with some genuinely spooky moments and jump scares, the prequel is a harmless entry in the Insidious canon. Whannell's installment isn't a must-see for casual audiences, but franchise fans and moviegoers looking for a creepy (though easily forgotten) horror outing will find Insidious: Chapter 3 is more than a cash-grab that tries to squeeze shameless money out of a prior, well-received, James Wan horror outing (we're looking at you Annabelle).
Insidious: Chapter 3 runs 97 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening images, some language and thematic elements. Now playing in theaters.
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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Insidious: Chapter 3 episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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