IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 97 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
It’s a few years prior to the Lambert haunting, and Elise Rainier has thrown in the towel on her psychic readings after being struck by the tragic loss of a loved one. When she receives a knock at her door by a distressed Quinn Brenner, a teenage girl who believes her recently departed mother is trying to reach out to her from beyond the grave, she attempts to make contact but stops after hearing a demon threatening to kill her and sends Quinn away, telling her that: “If you reach out to one of the dead, they can all hear you.” A vision of a demon results in Quinn having two broken legs followed by more sightings, eventually prompting he father to visit Elise and beg her to reconsider and help….
I will always remember my cinema viewing of Insidious, the film sending shivers down my spine and jolting me like nothing else had done in a very long time while at the same time I was really excited that a horror film was ‘getting to me’ so successfully. I will say though that the movie didn’t work anywhere near as well the second time round, this of course being the case with many scary movies but Insidious did fall rather flatter than it should have done on my next viewing at home, an especially common thing with this particular type of horror movie it seems. Nonetheless, at least at the cinema it definitely delivered in spades what many films of its kind promise and fail to do, so my anticipation was high for the sequel, though of course it was almost bound to be a let-down and it just wasn’t anywhere near as frightening, not helping itself by duplicating many of the same shock moments. It did, though, go down some interesting pathways for its perhaps overly convoluted but certainly intriguing story and suggested many directions in which the franchise could go in….and pathways which this third instalment mostly decides not to go down. The directorial debut for writer and also actor in the films Leigh Whannell, James Wan having been busy with Fast And Furious 7, Insidious: Chapter 3 had the potential to be very intriguing indeed, but it isn’t.
Now that doesn’t mean that it isn’t any good. It’s sufficiently tense and scary in places and features a truly excellent performers from one of its stars. However, this ‘prequel’ thing seems to increasingly be a lazy way for a series to continue because of the fact that it doesn’t need to actually continue anything, just set things up with lots of ‘nod wink’ references and foreshowing to keep the fans placated, fans who may end up feeling a little frustrated that the film doesn’t go some way to explaining what or who Elise saw at the end of Insidious: Chapter 2. Insidious: Chapter 3 basically remakes the first film on a slightly smaller scale, but does it better than I certainly expected. Taken on its own, it’s a pretty solid chiller that, to borrow a line from the primary influence on this franchise: “Knows what scares you”. I couldn’t help but think of some wasted potential though, the world of this series certainly being one that could be interestingly expanded upon, instead of just repeating the same situations yet again. Now of course I probably shouldn’t be moaning about unoriginality considering that I’m an undying fan of [well, most of] the Friday The 13th franchise, but if you think about it there’s only so much you can do with a man in a hockey mask killing teenagers. On the other hand, there are a hell of a lot of opportunities to develop, as well as strands to build on, the world of Insidious. After all, isn’t ‘cinematic universe’ creating all the rage at the moment?
So as I said what we have here is basically a remake of the first film, only set several years before. There’s the usual lazy introductory stuff you would expect, such as the heroine’s father being unable to understand why his daughter likes to photograph her food and put it on a blog [I’m with the father], and a slightly longer build-up to the scares, contrasting with film number one which was unsettling even in the opening title scene. Then Quinn is knocked over by a car in a very effectively sudden moment and is wheelchair bound, always a good device for increasing someone’s vulnerability. The scares then begin and some of them really worked for this critic, notably a bit where she thinks the demon terrorising her is under the bed and looks under it only for some demonic arms to lunge at her from above, and a sighting of the demon in silhouette standing beside Quinn’s bed. While Whannell certainly knows how to time jump scares, it’s good that the film isn’t too reliant on them, sometimes letting the camera linger on a presence or allowing a scene to build up a genuine feeling of dread. When Elise goes into The Further for the first time, it’s really quite nail biting. Joseph Bishara’s music again is again immensely effective and I think would be quite a disturbing lesson on its own, though of course his director wants him to provide a loud musical sting every now and again to aid him with the jump scares.
Sadly the film actually gets less scary towards the end, the writing becoming a bit uninspired and the climax over a bit too quickly. The film’s star demon, The Man Who Can’t Breath [yes, he’s honestly called that] doesn’t look too impressive when seen more fully [but then how scary can a demon who needs to breath with an oxygen mask really be?] and it would have been nice to know something about him. Of course some familiar faces good and bad show up and we get mostly decent origins of them as well as some familiar terminology, though some of the latter gets very cheesy, like a bit where Elise gives a certain name to the ‘other side’, replete with somebody else saying: “That sounds cool”. Honestly. Too much time is spent on providing clues to what you know is coming in the first two films, though I enjoyed spending more time with Specs and Tucker, Whannell and Angus Sampson being so good together that they could do with a spin-off film of their own.
This instalment actually dares to get genuinely emotional at times, with a scene near the end that actually almost brought on my tears [though I fully admit I’m a soppy sort anyway] even if it’s familiar from Casper and others. There’ s a strong theme of grief and the need for closure in this one that gives it some weight, along with the simply superb performance of Lin Shaye. Perhaps the film’s most successful element is how it lets us peer into the life of, and understand, the psychic who usually just breezes in to save the day, and Shaye is thoroughly convincing in a role that gives her a chance to show a wide variety of emotions, from fear to sadness to toughness [there’s a tacky but rather quite rousing moment when she virtually becomes like Ripley replete with a line of dialogue that had people laughing at the cinema I was in, but in a good way]. It’s the sort of performance that deserves an Academy Award nomination but won’t because it’s in a horror film [there have only been two Oscar winners for Best Actor in horror movies and one of them tends to be more regarded as a thriller]. Stefanie Scott is very appealing as Quinn but Dermot Mulroney is a bit inconsistent, great on some occasions, just middling on others. As said before Whannell does a fine job of direction, though it still seems like Wan made the fim, Whannell obviously choosing to mimic Wan’s style for the most part.
Considering how in some respects it’s a rather lazy effort, Insidious: Chapter 3 shouldn’t really work as well as it does, and I’m not entirely sure it really needed to exist apart from providing Elise with some depth, but against the odds it’s a pretty solid, if very typical of today’s cinematic world, horror picture that certainly does its job for some of the time and is certainly a bit better than the Poltergeist remake from two weeks ago, though the two films are so similar in style they almost seem like the work of the same director. Come on people though, let’s be a bit more ambitious with the next instalment, such as exploring the concept of The Further a bit more. It’s not as if the audience isn’t out there for it.