'Insidious: Chapter 3': Film Review

Matt Kennedy
A nimble prequel that breathes new life into the horror franchise

Dermot Mulroney and Lin Shaye co-star in this prequel installment of Leigh Whannell and James Wan's horror series.

Until now, the Insidious franchise has dealt with the haunting of two generations of the Lambert family and its attempts to exorcise a demonic legacy. Co-starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Lin Shaye, the two previous films generated some genuine dread as well as significant box office in 2011 and 2013.

Clearly the least menacing of the trilogy, Insidious: Chapter 3 offers a relatable young protagonist and several key supporting players from the prior films in a nimble setup to the series. While the film introduces some creepy new characters, the decision to move away from the original movies' often complex mythology boosts the capacity of the new installment (from Focus Features' Gramercy Pictures) to stand on its own. The result may be a broader audience to build on an already substantial fan base.

Instead of revisiting the Lamberts' fraught history, Chapter 3 relies for continuity on the supporting character of Elise Rainier (Shaye), the psychic who aided them in the first two films. When she’s first introduced — “a few years before the Lambert hauntings,” as a title card reveals — Elise is far from the determined demon-hunter she later becomes; she's living as a virtual recluse after the death of her beloved husband when teenaged Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) comes knocking at her Hollywood Hills door. Still distraught over the death of her mother, Lily, a year earlier, Quinn is seeking help contacting her in the afterlife. Elise reluctantly agrees to assist, but then quickly reverses course when her attempt to reach out to Lily reveals a far more sinister entity shadowing Quinn.

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Elise sends the girl home after warning her not to attempt connecting with her mother again, but it’s already too late to shield her from catastrophe. Quinn begins noticing a shadowy figure that seems to be following her, drawing her into danger when she’s hit by a car and ends up in the hospital with two broken legs. Confined to her bedroom in the apartment she shares with her father, Sean (Dermot Mulroney), and younger brother, Alex (Tate Berney), while she recuperates, Quinn experiences increasingly frightening phenomena, which she desperately reports to her disbelieving dad. But a terrifying, disgusting figure continues reappearing in her room, as she cowers helplessly in bed, unable to flee.

As dreadful events continue recurring in his home, soon even Sean can’t deny that something mysterious and deadly is trying to harm his daughter. When he seeks out Elise, she’s too afraid to help, convinced that the demonic realm that she refers to as “the Further” will overwhelm her if she does. Sean is therefore left on his own to confront the demon intent on pursuing Quinn.

Insidious co-creator Leigh Whannell’s economical script vividly reimagines Elise’s motivations for using her “gift” to aid the demon-afflicted while providing a clearer plotline that avoids many of the convoluted indulgences of the first and second episodes. The seemingly obligatory references to horror classics remain, although The Exorcist replaces The Shining as the film’s preferred template.  

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As a first-time director, Whannell skillfully navigates the film’s sometimes complex mix of practical and visual effects together with cinematographer Brian Pearson, only gradually revealing the extent of the threat that Quinn faces before shifting into full-on terror mode. Whannell also returns to provide comic relief along with Angus Sampson, comprising the high-tech ghost-hunting team that Elise recruits as her assistants in the other films.

Shaye reprises a substantially expanded role as Elise, the only genuine clairvoyant in the film. With a performance that shifts from stiff and introspective to fearlessly compassionate, she remains the series’ satisfyingly unwavering moral compass. Mulroney’s part registers as rather underwritten, as he plays the doting dad inspired to become his daughter’s defender, but finally is forced to leave the heroics to Elise. In her first horror film, Scott effectively charts the transformation of Quinn’s initial girlish enthusiasm into increasing dread and eventual rage as she succumbs to demonic possession.

Production designer Jennifer Spence and composer Joseph Bishara assiduously attend to the critical visual and musical details of this well-polished feature, contributing to the impression that the Insidious franchise may continue to benefit by branching out from its original premise, rather than recycling or returning to it.  

Production companies: Entertainment One, Blumhouse Productions, Stage 6 Films
Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Hayley Kiyoko, Steve Coulter, Tate Berney
Director-writer: Leigh Whannell
Producers: Jason Blum, Oren Peli, James Wan 
Executive producers: Steven Schneider, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Charles Layton, Peter Schlessel, Lia Buman, Xavier Marchand
Director of photography: Brian Pearson
Production designer: Jennifer Spence
Costume designer: Ariyela Wald-Cohain
Editor: Tim Alverson

Music: Joseph Bishara
Casting director: Terri Taylor

Rated PG-13, 97 minutes

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