As a child, there was something insidious about the cartoon Scooby-Doo. There was an indescribable problem with a group of teenagers and a talking dog travelling in a van like the one we tell children to avoid, going around solving mysteries perpetrated by dastardly adults. The talking dog I could get behind, because I was a child, but aside from wondering why they didn’t have to go to school, I wondered why they would put themselves in harm’s way to help complete strangers. It wasn’t until I got older, after finding out (much to my dismay) that “teenage travelling detective” was not a real profession, was that they had a mission in life, something they needed to prove to themselves and others. Insidious: Chapter 3‘s Elise has a similar mission in this film, but more than that, the film’s co-creator Leigh Whannell has the same goal.
With Elise (Lin Shaye) now a disembodied spirit and the Lambert family finally safe (for now?), it was time to move on to the next case. This one happens several years before the Lamberts, when Elise is afraid to use her psychic gift. Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) seeks Elise’s help in trying to figure out whether her mother is trying to contact her from beyond the grave, or if it’s something else. Obviously it’s something else, but Elise is unable to help because she has demons of her own to deal with. It’s too late now, because the moment Quinn acknowledged the demon, it became powerful enough to take hold of her. After a car crash caused by the Man Who Can’t Breathe, Quinn is bedridden in her room under the care of her father, Sean (Dermot Mulroney). Elyse is not enough to take on this powerful entity, and she will need to rely on old friends and new allies in her crusade against the darkness.
Unlike most horror films, we are spared the predictable build-up of having Quinn notice things move, seeing breezes pass through curtains and shadows in the corner of her eyes as she starts to try to make contact with an entity who she thinks is her dead mother. As people who actually watch horror films, we know that it’s never what we think it is. We are thrown into the fray mid-poltergeist attack, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. Writer/Director/Actor Leigh Whannell has realized that at this point, we know his formula, so he is forced to change it up. By getting rid of the often-formulaic beginning build-up, the film makes us appreciate the inevitable reveal. What it lacks in scares, it makes up for in mercifully saving us from some of the more tedious elements in the typical horror film storytelling. That being said, it isn’t your conventional horror film, especially when it comes to providing comedic relief and dipping its toes into the waters of an action film.
This film may have found its home in some very Scooby-Doo-esque elements, complete with a ghost-sensing dog. That by no means is a bad thing, especially since it is used to lighten the darker brutality of the horror aspects. Although there are fewer scares, the film is afraid to try something new, and that is where it starts its courting of the action genre. There are only a few scenes where, in the spirit world of the Further, super-psychic Elise fights hand to ghostly hand against a familiar entity called the Bride in Black. Spoiler, it’s actually a man in a dress. Whether or not these scenes are just to test the waters or whether they are a glimpse of future boogie man brawls is unclear. What I am sure about is that I wouldn’t mind having a horror film with scattered scenes of Elise fighting off legions of ghosts with gravity-defying acrobatics. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
At this point, you may have realized that the third chapter in the Insidious saga is actually a prequel to the first film. The major difference between this sequel/prequel and the rest of the continuity is that it corrects a huge mistake made in the first film: killing off the most likeable/interesting character. Aside from the ghostly geek squad, Elise (played by the talented Lin Shaye) is the anchor to the story. Having her die in the first film was a mistake they couldn’t quite retcon, and even having her as only a spirit in the second film was limiting to the overall story. Although it would have been amusing to see the continuation of the story with Elise communicating through ambiguous signs and symbols, the only way to fix the franchise and any future sequels was to give Elise an origin story and the ability to continue to (physically) appear in the films in the form of backdated, episodic films dealing with a new case/story each film. This act may have saved the franchise and given it the change it needed to recapture our attention.
Insidious: Chapter 3 continues to sneakily seep into our peripheries, creating another flawed but solid horror film. Whether it deserves our attention started to look like am uphill battle, but this most recent film has won its skirmish. Whether or not this franchise will continue to get our attention depends heavily on the dark, clouded future. Hi-ho, hi-ho. Into the Further we go.
RATING: ★★★★★★ (6/10 stars)