Tuesday, June 9, 2015

[Review] Insidious: Chapter 3

I didn't expect to say Insidious: Chapter 3 is one of the must-see horror films of the year, but here I am. While it isn't as stylized and metaphoric as the excellent It Follows, it works as a good companion piece, believe it or not. And no, it isn't necessary to have seen the first two installments.

During the surprisingly intriguing opening scene, Quinn--a young Selena Gomez-esque aspiring actress shows up at psychic medium Elise's (Lin Shaye) door (who, you'll recognize from the other films). Elise has recently gotten out of the communicating with dead people business, but she reluctantly makes an exception for Quinn, whose mother just passed. When the intense session begins, Elise gets in touch with someone, but it turns out to be the wrong person (or thing). She wearily expresses, "When you speak to one of the dead, they all can hear you." Afterward, Quinn is abruptly struck by a car, and sustains multiple bone fractures. Then, she begins to see a shadowy, waving entity everywhere she goes.

Director Leigh Whannell stages such a still and quiet atmosphere that any little movement or sound sets off the scare alarm. Each scene is scarcely lit, creating plenty of unnerving views of basements, hallways, and under the bed. Figures lurk in the peripheral, and the top-notch jump scares are out in full force. A couple of terrifying scenes involve a helpless and immobile Quinn as hideously creepy demons crawl toward her. Quinn's injuries function as a literal crutch in the story, but it makes for some anxiety-inducing sequences.

With a lot of contemporary big studio horror films, you usually expect an element (probably more than one) to turn you off, whether it's an obnoxious character, a ridiculous turning point, subpar effects, major plot holes, or just straight-up awfulness. But in the case of Insidious 3--that soiled moment never arrives, and that's obviously a good thing. I'm not suggesting that the script is a masterpiece, but the film is certainly a competent paranormal thriller from scene to scene. Insidious 1 brought some scares but fell apart in final act, and Insidious 2 had even better fright tactics, but the story muddled with its realm hopping. In Chapter 3, when Elise enters the other realms, it's a lot more simple & straightforward, and the sequences are just plain frightening.

The performances certainly help. Stefanie Scott, a relatively unknown newcomer does a swell job as the film's central (passive) protagonist. The dad (Dermot Mulroney) seemed like he could've been cheesy at first, but he slides into a finely convincing albeit thin role. The real standout is Lin Shaye. She's always been solid in these movies, but in Chapter 3 her character is developed more and she's the main force in the story in a "get out of the way and let me take this" fashion. And she actually has a really badass arc. It's important to note how rare it is to see a widowed "woman of a certain age" portrayed in such a way on the big screen, especially in a Hollywood horror film. That might be the biggest and best surprise here. The ghost hunter partners who brought some delightful comedic relief in Insidious 2 also return again, and the two probably deserve their own spinoff at some point.

It's easy to scoff at Insidious 3's sequel stigma, but give it a chance and I'll be surprised if you regret it.


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