Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Insidious: Chapter 3 shows remarkable signs of life for a series now entering its third film in five years. After a significant drop in quality from the delightfully terrifying first film to the mediocre, repetitive second film, the latest entry tells a story that takes place years before the events of the first two films. As a prequel, it surprisingly fills in the gaps of the previous films and creates a more linear, simplistic universe. It’s singularly defined and surprisingly emotional, telling two narratives about people failing to let go of their loved ones and having evil spirits latch onto them. Lin Shaye also gets the defining role of the series, which allows her to expand upon her mysterious psychic Elise Rainier, giving her depth and narrative significance. Writer-director Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the first two films, uses her moments behind the screen to really put a signature on it, even if it has many of the same difficulties that the previous entries had. Too much family drama and not enough time in “the Further” make the film drag at moments, but the payoff is rewarding and quite scary.
This time around, the story follows Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a teenager who aspires to be an actress in New York City. Currently, though, she’s going through her senior year of high school and cannot wait to get out of her father’s hands. Sean (Dermot Mulroney) is a struggling widow that works tirelessly and does not have the time to shop for food for his children; rather, he delegates many of the conventionally motherly tasks to Quinn, who already has a lot on her plate. Quinn often talks to her mother and occasionally gets responses, although she knows that communicating with the dead can be a tricky craft. She contacts Elise (Lin Shaye), the gifted psychic that vowed she would never work with the outside world again. We know based on the events of the first two films that it’s just silly. Elise explains to Quinn that communicating with the dead may not always reach the good; rather, when you talk with the non-living, every single deceased person can hear you. That means that Quinn has malevolent spirits coming after her, and a near-death experience causes one to latch onto her with no intentions of letting go.
This entity that grasps onto Quinn drives the entire narrative, which is decidedly old-fashioned and rare nowadays in horror. Because the story employs a single villain, it makes for an admittedly slow journey that finally gains traction as the characters start to navigate into the world of the dead. The Insidious films have consistently kept the same tone and feel, whether that be in the opening moments with the violent musical screeches over the title or the dark, cloudy world of the afterlife. The film’s most defining moments are its jump scares, which won’t really linger long after viewing. But there are genuinely terrifying moments, most notably as Quinn is put in leg casts and rendered defenseless for much of the film. There’s a scene that sent shivers down my spines but I won’t spoil it. The fact remains, though, that story trumps scares when it comes to horror, and Insidious: Chapter 3 delivers with two strong female characters that are defined by their sense of loss. It also acts as the catalyst for the events of the entire series. As a third piece of a puzzle, it holds pretty well, and stands on its own better than the previous two entries.
Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)