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“INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3” (Movie Review)

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The decision to do the third chapter in the INSIDIOUS saga as a prequel proves to have been the right one, as it allows for the introduction of new characters while adding depth to a familiar one, and delivers another creepy good time at the movies.

Although it delves into the backstory of psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 isn’t an origin story, being set a few years before the original film’s Lambert family haunting, and thus quite a while after some of the events seen in CHAPTER 2. It’s recent enough that teenage heroine Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) has a blog but not-recent enough that her father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) is befuddled by that idea—which is the least of the rifts between dad and daughter. Sean’s wife/Quinn’s mother has recently died, which has made Sean resistant to letting Quinn go off to the acting college she desperately wants to attend. Quinn is established early on as a young woman with real interests and goals, and in a screen scene full of teens concerned with nothing but partying and hanging out, it’s refreshing to find one who actually has a life.

One of her aspirations, unfortunately, becomes the crux of the terror that will invade her life when she becomes fixated on the idea of communicating with her deceased mom. It is for this reason that she seeks out Elise, who, in a nice bit of parallel characterization by series scripter and first-time director Leigh Whannell, is suffering losses of her own. She goes to bed every night clutching a sweater once worn by her recently departed husband, and the toll taken by venturing to the dark side has led her to abandon her practice as a medium, the door to her “reading room” securely padlocked. That leaves Quinn alone, at least at first, to face terrorization by an especially angry spirit whose intrusions escalate from pounding on the walls to full-on attacks.

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In assuming the director’s chair, Whannell continues the effectively low-tech approach of the previous INSIDIOUSes, resisting any potential urge to follow the bigger/more-FX-is-better approach of many horror follow-ups. Working from the idea that the characters come first, he establishes Quinn as a relatable and sympathetic young heroine before slowly building up the creep factor, alternating what’s-that-in-the-background? shivers with sudden jolts and using simple but effective misdirection to catch the audience off guard. (In Whannell’s hands, the simple act of following a series of gooey black footprints down a hall and up a wall is as chilling as any CGI specter could be.) Keeping with the franchise’s tradition, Whannell eschews cheap fake-out jump-scares, and takes death and loss seriously rather than going for a frivolous body count. (A subplot involving Sean and Quinn’s elderly neighbors that could have gone overly sentimental instead adds a brief, moving grace note to this theme.)

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 also serves as a strong showcase for Shaye. While the second film used the paranormal trappings to allow Elise to continue on following her demise at the end of the first, jumping back to her living days gives her much more of an opportunity to flesh out the role. As Elise digs out from under her own grief and terror to assist the stricken Quinn, she gives the movie its spine, and eventually has a couple of hero moments that will have her fans applauding. This chapter also sees her introduction to comic-relief ghostbusters Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who are discovered by Quinn’s little brother Alex (Tate Berney) via an on-line show; it’s less a coincidence than a sign of the times that the current POLTERGEIST remake uses the same idea.

The duo contribute some leavening levity to the film, as well as an additional anchor to its predecessors. There are other callbacks too, including a brief but resonant appearance by a character introduced in CHAPTER 2, a fun cameo during Quinn’s audition scene and a familiar, frightful face tormenting Elise. Yet for all that, Whannell isn’t beholden to slavishly replicating the prior chapters, and introduces a pretty freaky new demon into the mix, whose design (as carried out by Justin Raleigh’s Fractured FX) forgoes the need for any complicated origin explanations. Whannell and the FX team also find a creepy, imaginative way to convey this creature’s partial hold over Quinn, and returning composer Joseph Bishara largely packs up the screechy strings of the first two pictures and finds other ways to sonically raise the hackles.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 does eventually build to a course of action familiar from the first film, and at the climax, there’s a sense that the payoff could have been just a little stronger. There’s something to be said, though, for a sequel whose creator doesn’t bend the film out of shape trying to top past glories, and successfully balances similar and different while delivering the essential goods.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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