Going into the movie, Insidious: Chapter 3 was actually one of my most anticipated movies of 2015. It wasn’t just because Blumhouse Productions is almost unerringly good at making horror movies. With the first two movies, James Wan made a shockingly nuanced and highly visceral world of spectral terror. The degree to which the second movie exploded the series’ mythology outward actually made me appreciate the first movie more than I had, and I had every reason to believe that the franchise’s third instalment would do the same.
After her mother’s death, distraught teen Quinn Brenner tries desperately to reach out to her. When she attempts to make contact through retired medium Elise Rainier, she is given an ominous warning to never try to contact her mother on her own again. Because when you call out to one of the dead, all of them can hear you.
But it’s already too late for her. A spirit has already answered her call, and it’s not her mother. Possessed and at risk of having her soul devoured, it’s up to Elise, her father and an unlikely pair of ghost hunters to bring her back from “the Further.”
Although still thoroughly enjoyable – especially for long-standing fans of the series – the film ultimately fails to live up to the rest of the series’ promise. It’s just a little too reliant on jump scares and it’s pacing is just a little too ill-timed to permit it to take its place in the pantheon of Blumhouse’s other successes.
These issues are invariably due to James Wan’s departure from the series in order to direct Furious 7. Longtime collaborator Leigh Whannell is a well-enough director, to be sure, but he lacks the sense of timing and suspense that made Wan a household name among horror fans. His framing is adequate, his lighting is sufficiently moody and it’s obvious that he knows the difference between shocking and frightening. So even though he dips a bit further into jump scares that I personally care for, they are used properly (to accentuate drawn-out moments of tension) and more sparingly than the genre’s biggest offenders.
Casual movie-goers will be treated to a fairly standard horror flick about ghosts and the busting thereof: a little worse than the first movie, but not bad in its own right. Fans of the series, however, will be treated to a plethora of in-references to the previous movies, including cameos by Insidious‘ Lipstick Demon and Insidious: Chapter 2‘s Bride in Black. There are a few great visuals that will stick with you well after you walk out of the theater (in particular, Quinn’s tormented soul in the Further) and a few genuinely well-played scares.
The real problem with the film, however, is the fact that I found myself far more drawn to the narrated back-story about Elise’s suicidal husband, her journeys into the Further to find him and the spirit that she brought back with her from that dark realm than I ever was with the main plot of the movie: Quinn’s possession by the Man Who Couldn’t Breathe and the reunification of her soul. The former was a far more emotionally resonant story, far more interestingly handled and with a set of far more meaningful and personal stakes than some random girl who misses her mother.
So if you’re a fan of the series or just in the mood for a good scare, you could do far worse for yourself than Insidious: Chapter 3. It’s the best – if the least ambitious – horror movie to come out this year, beating out the disappointing Lazarus Effect, the almost good It Follows and the surprisingly solid Poltergeist. Fans will find plenty to love about a third go-around with some of their favorite characters, even if it’s wrapped up in a somewhat duller plot than they’re used to. Overall, I give it a solid 6.5 out of 10.