Cinematic Releases: Insidious Chapter 3

The third chapter in the Insidious franchise is released today. Are you scared yet?

"Go away, Patrick Wilson.
You can't come in."
Midway into Insidious: Chapter 3, the heroic medium Elise says ‘I can’t keep doing this anymore’.  After a while of the stale mediocrity that unfolds over the course of two hours, you’ll be thinking the same.  Say what you will about the first Insidious film, ridiculous asides involving Darth Maul or not, the low-budget Poltergeist knock-off had just enough genuinely unsettling moments in it to make it worth your while.  It had an effectively creepy atmosphere, spine tingling soundtrack and a notion of a neitherworld existing between life and death where demons frequent.  While exercising all the tropes of the evil spirts oriented haunted house thriller, the film still managed to carve just enough of its niche out to separate itself from the rest of the pack. 

Co-written by co-star Leigh Whannell, Insidious’ success was due in large part to Saw, The Conjuring and Furious 7 director James Wan’s confident and controlled direction.  The material aims low but Wan takes it higher than it probably deserves.  Having signed off on the second entry, which to some comes into its own and for others feels like more of the same, Wan was ready to leave Insidious and its creator Whannell behind.  Stuck without a director, Whannell took it upon himself to both star in and direct what proved to be by far the weakest and cheapest looking entry of the series, Chapter 3.  Without spoiling anything, let it be said the series has now reached the equivalent of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, where you can make whatever movie you want and sell it purely on the basis of the connections to the series. 

A sort of prequel to the first two movies, Chapter 3 sets itself apart somewhat with how Elise (Lin Shayne) fulfills her obligations as psychic successor to Poltergeist’s Tangina Barrons.  Chapter 3 is something of an unfrightening letdown with half of the technical proficiency of Wan’s offerings.  It breaks my heart to say this, but beyond Blumhouse and producer Oren Peli making yet another killing at the box office, Chapter 3 really has no business being in the theater.  Now some of you will attest Whannell is entitled a second chance considering it’s only his debut as a film director, but for all intents and purposes, the difference between Wan’s craft and Whannell’s inexperience behind the camera is unmistakable.  Where Wan managed to use the budgetary limitations to his advantage and felt like a professionally made PG-13 horror thriller, Chapter 3 feels not unlike tween melodramas produced by CW for Warner Brothers.  For a first time director, Whannell pats himself on a back whenever he’s onscreen with annoying egocentrism not seen since M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water.  We know Whannell has written these films.  It says so on the opening credits.  Do we really need him to come out and say it in broad daylight? 

"Gee. I really hope evil spirits
like cell phones cause I can't put this
one down."
Fans of the Insidious franchise will get the expected jump scares with the soundtrack blasting loud whenever it wants to resort to startling you.  Other than trying to sink its teeth into Elise, Chapter 3 just doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of creating genuine scares or a compelling storyline.  We’ve seen the demonic possession and neitherworld story done to death over the last forty years and judging from this and the numerous trailers before the film, the trend isn’t on its way out anytime soon.  Elise comes into her own but the rest of the cast, including the irrepressible Dermot Mulroney as the young possessed girl’s father, tend to get lost in the shuffle.  

Besides changing a couple characters around and setting it at a timeframe prior to the first two movies, the new Insidious feels like a disappointingly average retread of familiar territory.  While that doesn’t necessarily make it bad, it doesn’t make it good enough to recommend.  Intended to be scary, Chapter 3 bores viewers to tears despite its valiant attempts to frighten beyond abruptly blaring the soundtrack up loud.  Not that the other movies were masterpieces, per se, but that they still held your interest and were worth seeking out despite Darth Maul briefly reappearing before making an unwanted cameo near the very end.  I’m all for horror that relies mostly on shadows, claustrophobia and atmosphere, but Whannell pretty clearly has turned over a sophomore effort beneath the abilities of his colleagues and contemporaries.  If you were me, I’d pass on this unnecessary and tiresome prequel.  There’s just not enough new here for us to get worked up over.  Oh well.  I suppose it was marginally better than Poltergeist II: The Other Side.

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-Andrew Kotwicki