Movie Review: “Insidious: Chapter 3”

Starring
Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Director
Leigh Whannell

James Wan stepped up his game with 2011’s “Insidious.” The filmmaker behind “Saw” and “Death Sentence” conjured up his most effective scares to date with his fourth feature film, relying far more on tension than jump scares. While the sequel to that surprise hit wasn’t on par with its predecessor, it got the job done. But with Wan unable to continue the series due to other commitments, his frequent co-writer and “Insidious” co-star, Leigh Whannell, has taken over the reins, marking his directorial debut with “Insidious: Chapter 3.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t exhibit the same eye for tension that Wan does.

Set a few years before the first film, this prequel focuses on Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a teenage girl who hasn’t gotten over the death of her mother. Trying to communicate with the other side, she receives a response from an unwanted spirit: The Man Who Can’t Breathe (Michael Reid MacKay). The evil force almost kills the young girl at the start of the film, breaking her legs and leaving her immobile. Slowly – and rather repetitively – The Man Who Can’t Breathe tortures Quinn. Quinn’s father, Sean (Dermot Mulroney), enlists the help of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who, as shown in the first two films of the series, can speak to the other side. Other series’ regulars, like paranormal investigators Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Whannell), also return.

In the vein of the second film, this chapter delivers some more backstory. We learn how Tucker, Specs and Elise came to work together, and every moment with those three characters speaks to how funny this franchise can be. Whannell and Sampson have a terrific rapport. Even when they get into darker material, which they did in their last fantastic collaboration, “The Mule,” they manage to find laughs. If “Insidious: Chapter 3” was a full-blown comedy, it would probably go down as one of the funniest films of the summer.

But sadly, this is a horror movie. Most of the scares in the film are reminiscent of “Anchorman”’s Brick Tamland screaming, “Loud noises!” Almost every scare, especially in the sluggish first act, are followed by huge exclamations points. What’s disappointing is that Whannell and his DP, Brian Pearson, craft some chilling images, which composer Joseph Bishara’s score undercuts. The score is akin to a laugh track, telling the audience when they should be scared. The imagery and the situations the characters find themselves in are frightening enough.

Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey are absent this time around, and they’re slightly missed. Scott and Mulroney are more than adequate in the roles, but some obvious dialogue holds them back. Character motivations, emotions or pure logic are hardly ever subtle or necessary. At one point, after Quinn is attacked, Sean says, to paraphrase, “Nobody was in your room. I would have seen them.” Elise Rainer has no problem with some of the more on-the-nose dialogue, though. She’s become the star of this franchise, and for good reason. She gets the biggest laugh by far in the film.

Whannell’s script and direction is dictated by the genre’s formula. The most effective chills come when there’s no intrusive music and when a character fears what’s around the corner, where the silence becomes more frightening as the scene goes on. Like the flat scares, even the ending is simply checking a big box. Whannell already had an ending – and a surprisingly sweet one – but, because this is a horror movie, it has to end with one last hurrah. “Insidious: Chapter 3” is a disappointingly prepackaged horror movie.

  

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