insidious_3_3Year: 2015
Director: Leigh Whannell
Writer(s): Leigh Whannell
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 97 mins

Synopsis: A prequel which reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier reluctantly agrees to use her abilities to save a teenage girl from a dangerous supernatural entity. (Source)

Stepping out from behind the pen, writer Leigh Whannell finally takes the reigns from creative cohort James Wan to make his directorial debut with Insidious: Chapter 3. Whannell rolls the clock back to before the Lambert hauntings of the original films and presents this one as an origin story of sorts for the series’ heroine, Elise, played by the incredible Lin Shaye. Though a prequel, he still manages to connect the film to its predecessors without overdoing it, which allows the film to stand on its own without feeling disconnected. And while Whannell’s aesthetic might not be as strong as what Wan began established in the first two chapters, he has a good eye for character and strong emotion which pays off in a great way.

The story begins with a young girl named Quinn (Stefanie Scott). She’s an aspiring actress trying to make her way to college, but is stunted after the death of her mother. Desperate and distraught, she reaches out to a retired psychic named Elise (Lin Shaye), with hopes of communicating with her dead mother. Because of tragic circumstances, Elise has given up communicating with the dead, but feels a kinship with Quinn. Their initial meeting fails, but Elise warns Quinn not to reach her deceased mother on her own. Quinn still persists, and after a freak car accident keeps her confined to her home, strange things begin to happen. Suddenly, Elise is unwittingly forced to make a decision to save the girl’s soul at all cost.

Like the first two films, family plays a big role into what sets the plot into motion, and it’s refreshing to see that again, the story is just as important as the scares. The film initially takes its time getting to the horror, but it pays off, building the characters and the grief that imprisons them mentally, providing a nice emotional hook to connect the story’s two likeable heroines and their their struggle. Losing a loved one is arguably scarier than any ghost or demon, and when that idea is used to its fullest here, it culminates in a climax that smartly doesn’t one up what came before in terms of theatrics but builds to an undeniable crescendo of emotion.

insidious_3_2Though Whannell doesn’t necessarily deepen the series’ mythology, he finds ways to forge his own path with what we’ve come to expect, building some smart scares to couple with the film’s emotional dread. In contrast to the first two chapters, Whannell for the most part lays off on the jump scares (there are still few, but not as many) to build some eerie moments of sustained tension, sometimes slipping from one menacing encounter to another with subtlety terrifying visual cues and the perversion of mundane, everyday objects. There’s a nice mix of psychological and reactionary torment since Whannell eschews most of the eccentric funhouse overtones that Wan brought to the original films, and it allows this latest iteration to have its own voice and a scarier villain.

On a performance level, Stefanie Scott as the young Quinn and Lin Shaye, as the series resident superhero Elise Rainier are great at keeping us invested to the series despite not a whole lot of new going on. Scott’s Quinn turns in an interesting performance seeing as that she’s progressively paralyzed throughout the film. At first loosing the function of her legs, the film plays up the fact that she’s helpless to run away from any threats – she’s likable and creates a tether into the world that makes it feel relatable, despite her physical limitations. Lin Shaye, the consistent scene stealer of the franchise is back, with a role that pays tribute to her story from the first few chapters and gives her more to do than before. This time around, the focus is equally on her, and she’s just as incredible in a full role. Watching her range and charisma, I can believe that she’s creating an iconic character before our eyes. Though the actress has been in numerous films, it’s a wonder it took her so long to truly get the spotlight she deserves. Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell return again as comedic relief, Tucker and Specs (respectively), and they’re still great tension breakers who add color to the film.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is a great dip back into the further that should more than satisfy fans and maybe bring some newbies in, if there into this sort of thing. As a series, the Insidious films are still one of the better modern horror franchises we’ve got going and Whannell really knows how to milk its best assets, namely some great characters and a distinct style of horror that doesn’t forsake emotion and meaning. If they can keep the quality up like this, I’d love to see more.