Director: Leigh Whannell; Screenwriter: Leigh Whannell; Starring: Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Dermot Mulroney, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson; Running time: 97 minutes; Certification: 15
Here we are again, tiptoeing through the tulips, calling out to the dead, heading into the further. Insidious Chapter 3 takes a detour of sorts, shifting from sequel to prequel and turning back time to before the Lambert hauntings, focussing instead on young Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), who has been attempting to contact her dead mother but unwittingly lured other evil spirits towards her in the process. After reaching out to psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) for help, who herself is mourning a loss and unprepared to resume speaking to the dead, Quinn’s hauntings become prominent…and more dangerous.
Writer Leigh Whannell has stepped into the director’s chair for the first time in the wake of James Wan’s departure from horror into blockbusters in this third but probably not final installment. Any trepidation about him being unfit for the job are quickly quashed; he appears perfectly adept calling the shots and it’s not hard to see him doing it again soon. While slightly lacking the finesse and clever plotting of scares of his best bud Wan (who makes a fun cameo), he does a solid job. If anything, it’s the writing that suffers as a result; some of the dialogue is terribly clunky, with Quinn’s young brother serving as a completely irrelevant character. Not one word or action contributes to the plot.
Then there’s a moment which absolutely blows whatever this franchise (which we probably can call it now) was about out of the water. The first film is genuinely creepy – even if you don’t think so, there’s no denying it tries to be genuinely creepy. It’s a horror movie set out to scare its audience with evil ambiance; only scattered comic relief from Specs and Tucker (the Laurel and Hardy-esque ghost busters who make a third appearance in Chapter 3) briefly lighten the heavy air. Fast forward to Chapter 3 and we have that moment; that moment which is both brilliant and horrible, which entirely changes the dynamic of future instalments, should there be any.
Evil Dead 2 springs to mind. Like Insidious, The Evil Dead was a bona fide horror movie that wanted to be scary (the shoestring budget only added to the macabre). Then Evil Dead 2 came along, which effectively just replotted the first film with an extra layer of bananas. Slapstick and flippancy replaced horror; only the gore remained. Insidious Chapter 3 has a similar vibe. Some of the scares are bonkers and overt, and the longer the film goes on, the more ludicrous it becomes. It turns ghouls into caricatures and the creepiest aspect of the creepy first film into a fight right out of The Matrix. A terribly behaved audience erupted with joyous laughter; it was the one time I forgave them…and the one time I actually considered joining in.
The saving grace is that the whole thing feels quite knowing. There’s a sense that Whannell is perfectly aware of what he’s doing with his ‘baby’, and if that’s the direction he wants to go then I’ll go with it too. And none of this is to say Chapter 3 is without scares; the main entity haunting Quinn isn’t particularly spooky, but much of the infestation haunting is done rather well. It certainly does enough to raise a few hairs. It’s only when considering how good the first film is, how genuinely evil of an atmosphere it creates, that a sense of loss creeps in. But as far as third instalments in horror franchises go, this isn’t too bad.