Insidious: Chapter 3

2015-06-19 09:48

What it's about:

Set before the events of the first two films, Insidious Chapter 3 sees our psychic, Elise Rainier reluctantly coming out of retirement to help a young woman, Quinn Brenner, exorcise a demon from her house that she mistakenly believes to be her recently departed mother.

What we thought:

Effectively Insidious: Origins, the third film in this overly familiar horror franchise actually sets itself apart from most prequels in that it may well actually be the best in the series. At the very least it's a tremendous step up from the frankly terrible second film. And yet, for all that, it still barely manages to scrape past “not bad”, which may genuinely be "not bad" for a modern American horror film but it's still a far cry from the genre at its best.

On the positive side, the actual plot in this third instalment is probably the best yet, as it gets to delve deeper into the series' solidly if derivatively conceived mythology and though it's absolutely never remotely surprising, it is, pleasingly enough, actually pretty compelling. The film's decision to focus on Elise Rainier this time though, is truly its ace in the hole.

Perennial comedic supporting actress Lin Shaye (see just about any Farrelly Brothers movie ever) is pretty fantastic as the film's reluctant heroine, whose character arc of damaged old woman becoming, what is basically, an older and more ghost-centric version of Buffy Summers. She even gets some lame but fun quips to dole out while kicking demonic butt. Most importantly, she just comes across as a sympathetic, well-drawn character that the audience can actually root for – an increasing rarity in modern mainstream horror – and that she is a heroine well into the latter half of her life is the sadly all too rare but definitely welcome cherry on top.

Would that I could be so effusive about the rest of the cast. We do get the moderately fun first meeting between Elise and her two geeky sidekicks, and they're still enjoyable enough for what they are, but the Brenner family itself is hardly even worth talking about. We have the barely-coping newly widowed (or is that widowered?) dad, the smart but haunted teenage daughter and the younger son who is... just (barely) there. That's about as deep as their characterisation goes and though the actors try their best, they really have very little to work with.

The film's biggest flaw though – and one that is so central that it comes close, but doesn't quite manage to, scamper any good will one might have towards the rest of the flick – is that it resolutely refuses to be scary. It's not simply that it isn't scary, it's that it completely blows each and every potentially creepy or unsettling moment by puncturing that build up with increasingly obnoxious "jump scares". Though calling them "jump scares" might be giving them way too much credit.

Writer/ director Leigh Whannell, who takes over the director's chair from James Wan who was a bit too busy making the biggest movie ever, Fast and Furious 7, to return, has been with the series from the beginning as its chief screenwriter so he knows this world well. More than that, this is also an impressively assured directorial debut with strong storytelling, striking visuals and an impressively eerie atmosphere - which he unfortunately undermines at every available opportunity.     
Instead of allowing the building creepiness to do its job, Whannell instead punctuates each potentially scary scene with a cacophonous crescendo of monsters all but jumping out of the screen at you, while a veritable orchestra smacks you over the head with ear-pulverizing bombast. A noted British critic calls this technique "cattle-prod cinema" and he could hardly be more correct. It utterly fails to scare, being more seriously annoying than anything else, and constantly undercuts any potential scares that the film sets up. I cannot reiterate enough how much I hate this.

And mores the pity because between its likeable central character, decent plot, much improved monster designs and otherwise good direction, it could have really broken the trend of horrible recent horror movies. As it is, it's an OK but forgettable diversion from it, which is more than welcome in its own way, but is really very far from being enough.

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