D: Leigh Whannell / 97m
Cast: Lin Shaye, Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Michael Reid MacKay, Phyllis Applegate, Ele Keats
When single father Sean Brenner (Mulroney) and his teenage daughter, Quinn (Scott), move into a new apartment following the death of Quinn’s mother (Keats), the teenager’s desire to contact her mother leads her to visit retired medium Elise Rainier (Shaye). Reluctant to use her gift since becoming aware that each time she does she leaves herself open to attack from a murderous spirit – the bride in black – Elise agrees to try and contact Quinn’s mother, but another presence makes itself felt, one that scares Elise into warning Quinn to be careful about contacting her mother in the future.
Quinn begins to experience strange phenomena within the apartment, including knocking and loud footsteps from the apartment above. Cracks appear in the ceiling and walls of her room. Sean checks the upstairs apartment but it’s been empty for a while. Further disturbances occur, and Quinn is attacked, leading to both her legs being broken. Later, another attack witnessed by her father leads to her neck being injured. At this point, Sean reluctantly contacts Elise, who equally reluctantly agrees to try and help. Elise comes to the apartment and tries to contact the spirit persecuting Quinn – an entity who died in the building and is dubbed the Man Who Can’t Breathe – but is attacked by the bride in black instead. Shocked by this, Elise leaves, saying she can no longer help them.
As Quinn becomes more and more frightened by what’s happening to her, she persuades her father to contact a couple of paranormal investigators, Tucker (Sampson) and Specs (Whannell). They set up their equipment but are unprepared for the supernatural events that follow; as they pack up, Elise returns, having been reassured by a friend as to the strength of her gift. With Tucker and Specs in support, Elise travels back into the Further where she discovers Quinn, but in a faceless, limbless state: the half of Quinn’s soul that the entity has control of. Back in the apartment, Elise reveals that the battle for Quinn’s soul is down to Quinn herself. But Quinn is losing the battle, until Elise becomes aware of a presence that could tip the balance in the young girl’s favour…
As any horror movie afficionado will tell you, three is rarely the charm when it comes to horror movie franchises. And Insidious Chapter 3 is no different in that respect, coming as it does after two previous entries that explored the effects of prolonged supernatural distress on the same family, the unlucky Lamberts. The decision here to make a prequel to those movies seems, at first look, to be a solid idea given the chance it takes to bring back Lin Shaye’s popular psychic. But as with any third entry, familiarity undercuts any chance of effective suspense or scares, a problem that Leigh Whannell’s script never overcomes.
The main problem is that we’ve all been here before, and though Whannell – taking over from James Wan in the director’s chair – is well-versed in the particular universe he and Wan have created, is still unable to bring anything new to the table (or the realm of the Further) that provides the required thrills and chills. The Man Who Can’t Breathe is an admittedly unsettling presence – at first – but then makes too many appearances to remain entirely scary. The appearance of the bride in black also lacks the fear factor of the previous instalments (as we know she can’t actually harm Elise), and she’s seen too much in close up to be truly startling. And the Further, once the realm of the scarily unexpected, is now the realm of the mildly alarming. But it’s the movie’s final shot that shows just how much the movie is its own insidious mix of narrative set up (for parts one and two) and self-reflexive homage, as a moment from the first movie is rehashed with a lot less style or potency.
But at least it’s not as dubiously shambolic as some prequels/sequels/later entries in a horror movie franchise. Whannell and co are really trying to scare their audience, and while any originality in doing so is quickly exhausted, at least there’s an effort involved here that most Part Threes never manage. The plot is fairly simple, a hook on which to hang a few uneasy moments that, unfortunately, never fully realise their potential, and though most viewers will see what few twists the narrative provides from a whole other dimension away, there’s enough serious intent here to offset any shortcomings. This doesn’t mean that the movie works per se, just that it doesn’t work as badly as may be expected.
Where the movie does do well is with the performances. Mulroney, making his horror debut – though a case could be made for Stoker (2013) – is surprisingly good as the beleaguered father who’s way out of his depth, but determined to save his daughter no matter what. Returning as the equally out of their depth paranormal investigators Tucker and Specs, Sampson and Whannell replay their enjoyable double act but as in the previous movies, without making them seem too much like complete buffoons. The one weak link is Scott, who never quite convinces as a teen in peril, and whose reactions to the events going on around her always feel like they’ve been lifted from the performance of another actress in a similar role. But it’s Shaye’s movie throughout, her portrayal of Elise given added depth thanks to the inclusion of nods to her deceased husband, and her ability to get across just how scary the Further really is (even if the time spent there in the movie doesn’t support her contention). She also gets a moment straight out of the Sigourney Weaver/Ripley School of Confrontational One-Liners, aimed at the bride in black and guaranteed to raise a smile.
If there is to be a fourth in the series then it’s difficult to see where the makers could go next. As the movie which brings together Elise and Tucker and Specs, Insidious Chapter 3 does its job with a certain amount of gusto and charm. But if the series is to move forward rather than, say, further back, or sideways, then a whole new approach is going to be required. Whether it will restore the intensity and the scares of the first movie, though, is another matter entirely.
Rating: 6/10 – with the scare quotient dialled down in favour of connecting to the previous (subsequent?) entries in the series, Insidious Chapter 3 is only occasionally scary, and only occasionally enthralling; helped greatly by the commitment of its cast and crew, this is one horror movie prequel that tries hard to avoid the pitfalls of its place in the franchise.