I’ve made it pretty clear in the past that I’m a fan of the Insidious franchise, so I was looking forward with both interest and trepidation to series writer and co-creator Leigh Whannell’s debut in the director’s seat. After all, while the prior films had more than just well-timed scares going for them, there’s no denying that much of what set them apart from the rest of the ghost movie crop was director James Wan’s sure hand behind the camera. (He does make a brief cameo in this film, in that absolutely jaw-dropping theatre that you can see in the trailers.) Fortunately, while Insidious: Chapter 3 may not stack up quite as well as its predecessors, it’s a solid installment in what is definitely my favorite currently-running horror franchise.
The heart and soul of this series is Lin Shaye’s Elise, and fortunately this movie knows it. While the trailers make this out to be the story of a young girl (Quinn, played by Stefanie Scott) who tries to communicate with her dead mom and instead gets more than she bargained for, this is actually Elise’s movie. She’s the clear protagonist of the picture, and the storyline gives Lin Shaye more room to show her range than in previous films, since this time her character’s got an arc, rather than simply being the film’s Van Helsing. (Don’t worry, she’s still that, too.)
Making the decision to craft a prequel to the other two Insidious movies sounds like a poor choice on paper, but it gives Whannell an opportunity to go in and flesh out not only Elise’s character, but her relationship with Specs and Tucker who, along with Elise, comprise probably my favorite paranormal investigators. Maybe ever. Whannell and Angus Sampson reprise their roles as Specs and Tucker, suitably dressed and coiffed to make this that odd period film that takes place sometime in the early 2000s or thereabouts.
While this is pretty clearly Elise’s show, Quinn and her family get plenty of screen time, and continue the Insidious tradition of featuring protagonists who you rarely want to slap. Dermot Mulroney, in particular, acquits himself nicely as Quinn’s father, who is clearly in over his head but just as clearly wants to do the right thing. Like previous installments, Insidious 3 does a lot with very little, and boasts some great locations. (I want to live in pretty much every house that’s ever shown up in one of these movies.) Also like the others its got a very effective main ghost, though I’ll admit that I kinda wanted the Man Who Can’t Breathe to proclaim something “Mediocre” at some point. It’s not quite as scary as I remember its forebears being, but it does deliver a few very effective jolts, including one that comes from an almost entirely un-supernatural source.
What Insidious 3 adds to the mix is a surprisingly understated portrayal of grief and loss and moving on, as played out in both the characters of Quinn and Elise. While it’s more than a little lumpy, and some elements seem like they maybe wound up on the cutting room floor, or were stuck in at the last moment, Lin Shaye’s central performance carries it through any rough patches. It’s a welcome third installment to a wonderful and uneven and wonderfully uneven franchise. Insidious movies, you can stop now, while you’re ahead. If they do continue making sequels, I hope it’s just Specs and Tucker and Elise’s ghost going around solving cute mysteries, as implied by the end of the second film.