Mark Reviews Movies

Insidious: Chapter 3


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Dermot Mulroney, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tate Berney, Hayley Kiyoko, Jeris Poindexter, Phyllis Applegate, Steve Coulter, Michael Reid MacKay, Tom Fitzpatrick

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, frightening images, some language and thematic elements)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 6/5/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 4, 2015

Well, this is a completely unexpected surprise. Insidious: Chapter 3 is a vast improvement over its predecessors, despite giving us essentially the same plot and certainly the same formula of those previous movies. It's just another reminder that form trumps content when it comes to filmmaking.

The new director for this installment is Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the screenplay for this entry and the previous ones. It's his directorial debut, and he knows how to build the suspense within some really familiar scenarios. It's a shame that, in his role as screenwriter, he has to rely so heavily on the often tried and almost-as-often tired formula of this genre. As a screenwriter, Whannell might have a promising future as a director.

After two movies that basically covered the same ground, we should know the score by now, and it's to the movie's benefit that Whannell trusts we will know the score. There might be the same amount of expository dialogue about the world of the dead beyond this mortal coil as there was in the previous installments, but it doesn't feel that way until the movie's underwhelming climax.

Everything feels more streamlined about the plotting this time around, and shock of shocks, there's good reason to care about the two most important characters here. They're both grieving. They're both uncertain of how to live after the loss of a loved one. Also, one of them ends up with her legs broken and in casts, so running away from a damned specter isn't an option. Immobility does wonders for ratcheting up the dread.

The insinuation of the title is slightly misleading. The movie takes place a few years before its predecessors. This one shares a few characters of the living and dead varieties. The key one is Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), whom, one may recall, shows up in the previous installments to fight the ghosts (or demons or whatever they are) with an unflappable sense of psychic professionalism. She's essentially a punch line in the previous movies—the answer to the joke of a bunch of fools who don't know how to handle a haunting.

Here, she's disillusioned with the whole psychic business. She's locked up her reading room, where she usually helps people find the spirits of their loved ones in that other realm. Her husband committed suicide a year ago, and when she attempted to find his spirit, she failed.

Shaye, a vastly underutilized character actress, gives us a whole new angle on this character. There's a perceptible sense of sadness in her return to the psychic business. Shaye is smart enough to catch on to the humor, too, such as a moment in which she confronts the spirit that was (Is it "will be"?) her downfall in the first movie—confronts and then proceeds to head-butt and taunt the evil thing.

Of course, the trip to other side was not a complete failure. She couldn't find her husband, but she did find "something else." "When you talk to one of the dead," she tells someone interested in her psychic skills, "you talk to them all."

The party interested in the psychic stuff is Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a teenage girl whose mother died of cancer a year ago. When Elise attempts to contact Quinn's mother, a different "something else" becomes attached to the girl. She starts to hear voices and to see a shadowy figure that waves at her.

It's enough of a distraction that she ends up getting hit by a car. She has a near-death experience on the operating table, and the "something else" somehow nabs half of her soul in the process. The accident also leaves her legs in casts (There's something unintentionally humorous about how often the ghost/demon adds injury to, well, injury). Her whiny father (Dermot Mulroney) eventually catches on to the evil force, thanks to some icky footprints in the empty apartment upstairs.

The thing, a grizzled old man wearing a respirator mask, is scarier than any of the other ghosts and/or demons that we've encountered in this series. When it gets to her in one scene, it takes its time to close the curtains, shut the door to her bedroom, and close the lid of her laptop. It's patient and unerring in its pursuit of Quinn, and that's a sinister proposition.

Whannell is patient, too. He knows how to use silence in the moments leading to the big scares. Characters walk through darkened spaces toward the inevitable (leading us, of course, to wonder why no one turns on a light or two or three), but the soundtrack remains relatively quiet—footsteps, creaking floorboards, and the ambient sounds of an old house or abandoned apartment. It's a minimalistic approach to a franchise that has so often seemed too visually hectic for its own good. One scene in particular makes really efficient use of a night-vision camera that appears to have taken on a life of its own.

Where Insidious: Chapter 3 stumbles—and it's a big deal—is that the individual scenes and the whole of the movie never pay off in a satisfactory way. It's nice to see a franchise that seemed stalled from the beginning change its pace so dramatically, so maybe there's hope for the next time.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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