A girl walking with a friend late at night turns and looks down the street only to notice an odd figure in the dark, waving. The camera keeps us far enough away we have to really focus to make out any details on what it is in the distance. “What is that?” we ask ourselves realizing we’d seen something similar only minutes earlier. All goes silent when… WHAM!!! The first of many, many, many, many jump scares ensure you’ll be on guard throughout the 97-minute duration of Insidious: Chapter 3. Strangely enough, for as often as I would ding a movie for its use of this cheap tactic, it feels rather organic to this third chapter’s narrative, but more on that in a second.
The first film in the Insidious franchise was something I referred to as an “homage to PG-13 horror” when it hit theaters in 2011. It mixed today’s bloodless jump scares with humor and a tinge of old school flavor, and it did it moderately well. I wasn’t, however, moved to see the sequel two years later. No worries there, Insidious 3 is a prequel story and marks the feature directorial debut of franchise writer and co-star Leigh Whannell, taking over for James Wan (Furious 7, The Conjuring) whom Whannell has worked alongside ever since the Australian duo brought us Saw back in 2004 and they’ve effectively been influencing the horror genre, for better or worse, ever since.
With this third chapter Whannell brings audiences a little closer to the origins of the darkened realm of the dead called The Further and an earlier story in the life of the franchise psychic, Elise (Lin Shaye). We explore Elise’s early dealings with the creepy old lady in the wedding veil, how she came to partner with parapsychologists Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Whannell) and how she attempted to help young Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) contact her recently deceased mother only to result in attaching an asthmatic demon to the teenager instead. Not cool Elise… not cool.
From there on out Quinn is constantly haunted by “The Man Who Can’t Breathe” (Michael Reid MacKay), a demon wearing a respiratory mask who leaves gooey black footprints wherever he goes. This guy can walk up walls and hangs from the ceiling like a bat, all with the intended goal of collecting souls for his Further menagerie and Quinn is his latest victim.
In proper horror film fashion, Quinn does just about everything you’d expect a stereotypical horror film character to do, but it’s quite obvious Whannell understands this and even my screening audience seemed to enjoy the cliches along with the expected jump scare that followed. At the very least the scares weren’t inserted out of necessity, but instead instigated by the antagonists in the film. This isn’t a case of a character inspecting a creepy alleyway only to be frightened by a startled cat mixed with loud noises. Nope, it’s the “Man Who Can’t Breathe” or some other ghoulie offering up the scares here and I don’t mind saying this film got me to legitimately jump more than a couple times.
Perhaps it was the enthusiastic audience I saw it with. Amid the screams I could hear people behind me saying things like, “No, don’t do that,” “Nuh uh, I’m outta here,” and the best being, “Why do white people do the dumbest things? These are your people.” As a result, I had one hell of a good time watching this movie, despite the fact it does very little in terms of offering anything all that new and hardly develops anything in the way of a compelling back-story or intriguing mythology.
The added bonus is the character Whannell has written for Lin Shaye. Elise isn’t your average, everyday psychic, she’s got some guts and once the finale arrives her stand-off with the Bride In Black resulted in cheers from my screening audience.
Insidious 3 is a successful roller coaster horror ride. There are many types of horror, but I believe Whannell and Wan, when successful, have been able to tap into the idea of injecting a wealth of scares, story and humor into their features, which might not be something you’re going to watch over and over again, but when you sit down in a darkened theater with the right audience you’re likely going to have a pretty good time.