Insidious: Chapter 3

While the first film is still the best, Insidious: Chapter 3 stands out on its own with as many reasons to laugh as there is to cover in fright.

There’s something about horror films that scare you one minute and makes you laugh the very next minute. It’s the same ruse that made The Evil Dead franchise a fad for decades. Using this ploy, series writer Leigh Whannell vindicates the necessity of a third installment, albeit with more zany humour than actual scare tactics. It’s like putting half your chips on red and the other half on black in a roulette game. And that’s exactly what happens with Insidious: Chapter 3 – it’s not a winner but it isn’t a disaster either. Somewhere in between is a horror film that is more entertaining for the fun it pokes than its primary intent in frightening the viewer.

Having worked with James Wan long enough, with joint repute in The Conjuring and the first two Chapters of this franchise, Whannell isn’t new to horror and it shows. Now with the added responsibility as debut director, while also co-starring, the question arises whether Whannell had too many things on his plate. It’s not that Chapter 3 is boring or even ineffective as a scary movie. It’s just that you get what you expect, more or less. Like previous films in the franchise, the mechanism applied is jump scares with an amped up shrieking sound that gives you the jitters. Only this time, this technique is applied with thoughtful restraint.

Penned as a prologue that precedes the Lambert incident in Insidious, Whannell’s setup is twofold. The first is a bit of indulgent haunting while the second (and most important aspect) is the background story that fully introduces us to Elsie Rainer (Lin Shaye), the spirit medium from the first two films. Now here comes the first film length gag – Elsie is a funk despite her experience as a reputed medium. Too many séances have left her drained with one particular spirit stalking her every time she enters ‘The Further’, a realm beyond the world of the living. It’s one of the reasons why Elsie considers retirement, but an encounter with teenager Quinn Brenner (Stephanie Scott) draws her back in to what turns out to be an unusual and dangerous case. As the story goes, Quinn is still mourning the death of her mother. Although Quinn feels her mother’s presence more than a year after her passing, she may have inadvertently latched onto something else while trying to contact her mother from beyond. During her first interaction with Elsie, the latter explains it layman’s terms – calling out to a dead loved one is always risky because once you make contact, you have contacted all of them instantly; all of them including malevolent spirits who will piggyback into the world of the living.

While it would have been all too obvious to follow Wan’s tradition in the first two films, Whannell’s prequel actually veers off and then finds a quaint niche of its own. You could say that it’s partly due to the sparingly used jump scares, or even the dead silence leading up to those scares. While that works to some extent, the real saving grace is the unexpected comic timing from 72-year-old Rainer, who not only becomes the central character, but also gets to kick some ghostly butt, ala Sigourney Weaver style!

In the end, Insidious: Chapter 3 may not give you nightmares, but for what it’s worth, there are few genuine jolts – some to the spine and a few to the ribs. You could be winded either way.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.