Following on from the disappointing sequel, the third chapter of the Insidious series is something of a return to form. In fact, even though the first half of the first film is up there as one of the greatest portions of horror from the last few years, as a whole, this might be the best of the bunch.
Setting itself up as a prequel, Leigh Whannell can now rely on the return of Lin Shaye, even though she was killed off in the last film. Shaye’s Elise Rainer is reluctantly drawn back into giving psychic readings when the desperate Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a teenager who has recently lost her mother, comes calling. Realising that her own dalliances with the afterlife are troubled by visions of a woman in black, Elise warns Quinn off further reading and tries to get back to a lonely life, grieving for her recently deceased husband. Quinn heads back home, looking after her younger brother and stressed father (Dermot Mulroney). She is keen to leave town, and is auditioning for roles on the stage to continue her career as an actress, and it’s on one such audition that she is involved in an accident that leaves her bed-bound. Soon, the confines of her bedroom feel like a prison, as a horrifying series of events convince her that she is being haunted by something demonic. Her father, willing to try anything to protect her, reaches out to Elise, who in turn enlists the help of two internet paranormal experts to help exorcise the Brenner family of their problems.
The script allows Whannell to star alongside his buddy Angus Sampson, as the two bumbling “ghostbusters” we have seen from the previous film. This films serves as the origin story of the tight unit we see in the other films.
As always, a horror film is judged by the frights it delivers, and thankfully Insidious: Chapter 3, scores highly in that category. The idea of a terrified victim, trapped at home is superbly explored with some witty moments and clever scares. Youngster Stefanie Scott makes for a great focus, even when she steps into the shadows as the logical thing to do would be to run a million miles in the opposite direction.
Trips into the underworld, known in this series as “The Further” are spooky, but also lacking in the real-world creepiness we get in the rest of the film. The tone is set when we see the ghouls in familiar settings, we know the characters are facing real dangers. The series dispenses of the tired cliché of characters thinking it is all in their minds, we know the threat is real and that makes it all the more horrifying.
The big bad here is a grotesque creation that leave footprints and breathes through a mask. He is joined by a legion of equally disturbing monsters, one of which is a crawling, disfigured pet that is sure to haunt us for many days to come.
Whannell has been involved with the series from the start, usually as writer and co-star. His direction lacks some of the heart-stopping clarity of the first film, but he has a consistent understanding of the series that creates sustained tension and genuine terror.
The class of Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne may be missing, but this time out it’s the spooks that star, as Insidious: Chapter 3 is genuinely scary.