Insidious: Chapter 3 Review — When The Dead Just Won’t Quit
The “other parent” of Insidious gives scaring a try.
Most of the time I spend on my “scary movie soapbox”, I’m singing the praises of THE James Wan. The guy started Saw, the guy made the first Insidious, the guy created The Conjuring; if there’s a modern horror movie doing well commercially or is worth remembering, chances are Wan’s fingerprints are on it somewhere. Inside each of his cinematic “haunted houses” lies a jump scare, a soon-to-be nightmare worth mimicking, worth studying, and worth remembering.
While Wan was on “vacay” making a Fast and Furious movie, his horror co-founder Leigh Whanell went through the trouble of making history’s second-best Insidious movie. Whannell’s name, or better yet his credit, should be in the back of many a horror fan’s mind; sharing a room and title with Wan when each of his “horror classics” were made, it all came before Whannell’s first directing gig, Insidious: Chapter 3.
The third Insidious movie picks up like most of the rest of the series, give or take a few years, before series regular Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) swore off her psychic game for good. This time, a younger face is given the chance to lose some sleep to a conduit possessing. Quinn Brewer contacts, and convinces our horror heroine for “one last séance” so she can contact her dead mom from beyond the grave.
What follows, in the next hour and a half, showcases a few lessons best learned from James Wan, and from by best guess, a serious knack for scaring by Whannell. Wan’s best intentions carry over nicely to Insidious’ third outing; somehow losing the worst habits of 2013’s “part two”. For Wan, his love for deep-diving into what makes a scare scary often counteracted any horror director’s best tool: his audience’s imagination. Insidious: Chapter 2 spends so much time with what haunted the Lambert family, hardly any of it’s scary anymore by the time that movie’s over and done with. Insidious 1’s scariest moments where were we had no idea what was really following this family around.
Then naturally, it best serves Chapter 3 to “start fresh” with an entirely new family. Better yet, a crippled teenager who has mommy issues, with traces of a high school crush thrown on top. In a “small touch” clever twist that took me most of the movie to appreciate, what could really be scarier for a teenager than keeping your “hauntee” trapped in a room with TWO broken legs? Maybe an aggressive demon spirit that goes out of his/her way to close the blinds, shut the door, and gets your decorative rug dirty with their “black as tar” feet? That’s not only scary, but cruel.
Insidious as a series has carried with it this habit of bringing up a new “dark spirit” each outing. The original had “lipstick face”, the second featured the woman in black along with a whole family of ill-intending spooks, and without giving anything away, Chapter 3 makes up for not having the scariest monster of the three, with a series of jump scares so intense (and admittedly surprising) you could swear Whannell (directing a script he wrote himself) was trying to meet some kind of quota.
Still, if a hundred too many Elm Street sequels have taught us anything, it’s that it takes more than shocks and quick cuts to make a scary movie hold together. That’s where ingenuity, the unteachable talent, helps Whannell so much. Like moxie, spunk, and other made-up words that describe some kind of intangible skill, Whanell’s capacity for making things scary is what brings me some comfort in seeing this series go forward with a new masthead. Everything most horror aficionados believe about effective scaring, Whannell subscribes to. Some would think, because he’s a member of that very same elite. He knows what gets the “scary part” of the imagination going, the way to build up scares that pay off scenes later, but most promising of all, he seems to embrace the areas he needs to grow. I would say Whannell finds what makes this series tick, when in fact he’s actually been with these movies since the day they were conceived.
Jump scares don’t just happen and then leave, there’s that “unwinding dread” that riles up an audience, any “Horror 101” class would teach, but is still hard to really master without getting repetitive. Every big jump and fright feels like it was re-examined and aligned, just the way Whannell wanted it. Even story elements Wan had trouble mining the spookiness in, like “The Further”, Whannell reinvigorates. For some scares, you don’t have to find something new… Whannell mines what’s tried and true for his scares to work; even if all it takes is a coat of red paint and a fog machine in some scenes.
Albeit, Chapter 3’s ending is close to being the biggest weak spot of Whannell’s freshman feature. It’s like the one moment Insidious remembers it has to be a horror movie, and therefore, has to have a quickly-settled, lackluster ending, subsequently tripping on itself after boxing itself into a corner. But, to its credit, at least there didn’t have to be an exorcism.. That, and a few “classic pratfalls” of “prequel-ism” are hard to enjoy, like certain characters referencing plot points everyone already expects. Still, the nudges and allusions to the Lambert family’s “haunting to come” still got chills out of me.
For this blockbuster summer, Insidious: Chapter 3 deserves more credit than just being “better than it could’ve been”. It’s fun, it’s reliably scary, and adds a LOT to a faithful series that does so much that’s crazy and captivating without mining for what we’ve seen before. Stepping into a horror franchise that’s already three-movies-deep, I don’t think there’s as much “breakout recognition” for Whannell, who I’m sure will eventually have his own Saw or Dead Silence or Insidious. Eventually, with more movies like this, he’ll be outside Wan’s shadow. Someday maybe, this “little haunting” will be seen before THE Leigh Whannell, really made a living, making nightmares for good, American, movie goers.