Making the third film in the Insidious series a prequel was the smartest move this franchise could have pulled; a respectable decision that could completely be overshadowed if a fourth one is ever released. Cutting the franchise off as a trilogy would be a good idea; the second Insidious was underwhelming and came nowhere close to matching the excitement and ingenuity of the first, so it’s hard to imagine – assuming the fourth isn’t also a prequel – the story in the second film not become terribly stale.
Insidious: Chapter 3 goes back before the first two, shedding more light onto Elise (Lin Shaye) and her mysterious ability to contact those in the further (the realm of the dead). Ones enjoyment of the film rests heavily on their investment in the story and the need to have questions from the first two films answered at least somewhat clearly. This third film does do a good job of revealing more of the story, clicking that in with this to ensure that the three films flow with a consistent mythology, held together by Elise and her decision to get back in ‘the game’ of channeling ghosts and demons.
The origin of Elise’ powers are never given a satisfactory backstory though, instead we spend most of our time with Quinn (Stefanie Scott) a young girl who recently lost her mother to cancer and seeks out Elise to establish some communication with the deceased woman. Elise’s initial resistance quickly subsides once Quinn rouses her sympathy and in the film’s first creepy scene Elise puts the call out to the girl’s mother but instead hears back from something more sinister.
“When you call out to the dead, all of them can you, Elise explains to Quinn, openly warning her to never attempt contact again for fear of someone else replying. The sense of foreboding is executed well here, and debuting Director Leigh Whannell handles the pace surprisingly well.
Quinn is soon hospitalised with two broken legs from being hit by a car, something that happens because she is distracted by a mysterious man waving at her from a distance. It’s an interesting angle for the film, having the protagonist almost completely immobile for the movie, confined to her bedroom and bringing that cramped, claustrophobic feeling that adds it’s own layer of terror and helplessness to the haunting.
The actual haunting leaves much to be desired though; half impressive while the rest under-uses the film’s sole demon for the sake of stretching out jump-scares. When the demon is used, there’s a heavy focus on letting the viewer scare themselves before the actual jump – often cheap and ineffective – lands.
The family dynamic between Quinn and her in-over-his-head father (Dermott Mulroney) does add a lot to the dramatic aspect of the film, mainly because of Mulroney’s solid performance. It’s this commitment to drama and actually telling an involving story over cheap scares that prevents Insidious: Chapter 3 from ever becoming as disappointing as the second, although there are moments where it feels like opportunities were missed.
A neighbour who is supposedly in love with Quinn seems like someone who would come into play later in the film, as does her best, sarcasm-loving friend. Neither are of any use whatsoever though, thrown in there for pointless cast expansion – especially the neighbour boy – for no reason. Even Quinn’s younger brother (Tate Berney) seems to be a character that could easily be worked into the narrative, or at last some scares, but he is largely unnoticeable.
The film has a strong ending, giving us another exciting journey through The Further – a realm where the other two film’s are also at their best – making us wish we spent more time with the demons and ghosts than we actually do. Though the film could have been so much better than it is, Insidious: Chapter 3 is still a well-made and welcome entry to the series, syncing up well with it’s predecessors and giving more of a complete look into this mythology.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running time: 97 minutes
Insidious 3 is out in Australian cinemas now