I have always appreciated the Insidious franchise, with its minimal composition and style. They have always had a nostalgic air to them reminiscent of 70’s Italian films, particularly those of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. The staples of Argento and Fulci blend seamlessly with Blumhouse’s mantra of less is more, and the modern setting for all the films in the Insidious series. That being said, I have never been scared by either Insidious or Insidious: Chapter 2. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s just a matter of saturation in horror films and personal taste. Argento and Fulci never got me to jump either, but instead would engage me the way artwork engages a museum patron.
Blumhouse Pictures and Leigh Whannell have broken that cycle with Insidious: Chapter 3, hitting theaters Friday June 5. From the moment the titles hit the screen, you are settled into a great environment for the prequel to the Insidious films we are familiar with. The movie builds beautifully in terms of tone, but is never lacking in intensity. I attribute this to how rooted the movie is in the storytelling and not the scares. You are often tricked into thinking you are watching a standard drama, which makes the scares all the more startling. Combine that with earnest performances throughout, (Keep an eye out for Jeris Poindexter’s lobby scene as Harry,) and you get not only a solid horror movie, but a well-rounded film.
It is not often you find a movie in the horror genre that strives for great storytelling. In a genre fraught with cheap scares and gushing blood, it isn’t often thought about to build characters and have strong scene work. But director Leigh Whannell goes that necessary extra mile, creating fluid, unique people you are easily engaged with. It’s been longer than I can remember, if at all, that I have cried in a horror movie. That puts Insidious: Chapter 3 a cut above the majority of modern horror out there. A perfectly tuned roller coaster of dramatic and deadly.
Don’t think Insidious: Chapter 3 forgets its goal, though. The scares are crisp, with creeping vines of tension that brought this desensitized reviewer near to tapping out several times. The movie is also fraught with respectful nods to some of its classic predecessors. Keep an eye out for references to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and Hitchcock’s Rear Window, for example. Even Blumhouse and Insidious alum James Wan, Whannell’s Saw co-writer, makes a surprise cameo that will thrill all the horror nerds out there.
The best and most important nod in the film, though, is the appearance of our favorite blonde psychic and Insidious sweetheart Elise Rainier, played by the godmother of horror Lin Shaye. We finally get to delve into Elise’s past in Insidious: Chapter 3 and are glad to do so. The Elise in this film is not the Elise we have grown to love. We see Elise at a low point in her life. She is fragile, scared and lost in her grief from the passing of her husband. We find her denying her talents, crippled with fear, but by seeing her like this the audience is given the privilege of watching her blossom into the steel-willed, self-realized woman we come to know in the first two films. And of course, what would an Insidious film be without our two favorite paranormal investigators Tucker and Specs? With their oh-so-brilliant motto, “Don’t let your disturbance be disturbing,” we get to see these two move into their future and the most terrifying ghost hunt of their lives.
And although we get to see our favorite ghouls from movies past, (although one of them seems a tad forced – Spoilers!) we also get a sense of their roots as well. The movie is loaded with all the dark shadows and grimy corners a Blumhouse fan could want. Elise’s retired reading room is a definite highlight – an abandoned a medium’s dark, secluded basement parlor is a prime breeding ground for things that go bump in the night and leave grody footprints on the floorboards. It is a great introduction to Elise’s reading room and a metaphor for the medium to stop ignoring her calling.
For the most part, Insidious: Chapter 3 dodges clichés, deciding to delve into the logic of reality and not the audience’s willingness to suspend disbelief. Although the protagonist Quinn Brenner, played by Stefanie Scott, commits the classic faux pas of not listening to warnings she is given, her father Sean, played by Dermot Mulroney, makes relatively rational decisions. He accepts the situation for what it is at the proper pace of the story – not too early to make him seem crazy, but not too late to make him seem like a jerk.
This was by far my favorite of the Insidious trilogy. Definitely one of the stronger prequels in movies to date both in and out of genre. And what will you take away from this movie? That Whannell goes Into The Further with gusto.