‘Insidious: Chapter 3’ Review: Not As Loud But Incredibly Close
The first two Insidious movies may not have been the scariest motion pictures in recent memory, but they certainly were the loudest. Director James Wan, working from screenplays by Leigh Whannell, appeared eager to blow out the back out our collective heads with bombastic “Boo!” scares and operatic visual dynamism, and a score that seemed simultaneously out of tune and yet weirdly in synch with all the supernatural madness on screen.
But Wan’s grand guignol virtuosity often overpowered the actual stories of the Insidious series, which at heart were relatable, human dramas about families assaulted by inner turmoil, but with specters. A mysteriously ill son tore a family apart long before they realized he was besieged by demons in the first Insidious, and a father’s need to protect his family masked darker personal trauma, and a horrifying possession, in Insidious: Chapter 2.
With James Wan out of the picture (save for a brief cameo) and screenwriter Leigh Whannell taking the reins, Insidious: Chapter 3 appears to have finally found the appropriate mix of shock and realism. The scares are a little less outlandish but now they grow directly out of the story of a young girl named Quinn (Stefanie Scott) and her perfectly reasonable fears of the past, present and future, rather than spewing somewhat arbitrarily from the whims of an overzealous storyteller.
Quinn’s mother has recently died, and her desire to speak to her beyond the grave leads her to the home of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), the medium who saved the Bowen family in the previous two films, and who, when last we saw her, was actually quite dead. Insidious: Chapter 3 takes place before the events of those movies (making it technically a prologue), and shows how Elise herself overcomes the death of a loved one to once again face off against the supernatural by saving Quinn from the evil presence who answers in her mother’s place, and teaming up for the first time with Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), her lovable comic relief sidekicks.
There’s a sense of inevitability that Insidious: Chapter 3, like most prequels, never quite shakes off. It doesn’t help that Whannell goes out of his way to foreshadow Elise’s death, even though it has no relevance to the story at hand. At least Quinn and her family – a sympathetically frustrated father played by Dermot Mulroney, and a brave younger brother played by Tate Berney – are unknown quantities, capable of dying at any moment, or at least getting mangled. Which at least one of them does, gruesomely.
And so Quinn wrestles with a gooey demon who lives in the apartment above her, and who seems to have already siphoned off half of her soul, but as macabre as Whannell’s imagery becomes it’s the family’s reactions to the horror that truly wrench. Mulroney dangles believably at the end of his rope, and Scott carries most of the film on her shoulders as a bed-ridden teen whose dreams of college seem stymied. Her future is uncertain even before death comes a-calling, and all the nightmares that befall her are eerily effective interpretations of her young, confused, and paranoid angst.
If Insidious: Chapter 3 doesn’t have the same impact as the first two films, it’s only because Whannell doesn’t wave his arms to get our attention. It’s a more effective movie overall, full of grim threats and human drama. And at least this one won’t make your eardrums bleed. Ache, certainly, but not quite bleed.