This third instalment of the Insidious series is an interesting film. It is not bad… granted it isn’t particularly original either, though if you haven’t recently seen films such as Jacob’s Ladder (a slight reference to which you can see in the above image) and The Exorcist, then you may find yourself thinking it is actually a pretty good modern horror movie.
I went in with no other expectation than to be greeted with a sequence of needless jump scares and helpless screaming girls, yet, as was the case with both Fast & Furious 7 and Mad Max: Fury Road, I came out feeling that those initial lowly expectations had at least been surpassed.
There is a scene in the film in which I can clearly recall this thought process happening, too. It is when Elise Reiner, played by Lin Shaye in what is the movie’s most accomplished performance, talks about the death of her late husband. She speaks of him having suffered depression and committing suicide, and the scene is handled with such grace that I found myself somewhat taken aback, perhaps even a little sentimental, while thinking “wait… what? This is supposed to be a generic horror movie I’m watching, right?”
Yes, that is what it was supposed to be, and for most of the film it plays that part fairly well. But it is not only that, as the scene I have just mentioned kickstarted a satisfying and heartfelt story arc for the character of Elise. Though she has appeared in the previous two Insidious films, this instalment is very much her story.
It is a shame, however, that the other characters’ stories aren’t quite given similar care and attention. Even Quinn (Stefanie Scott), the films other ‘main’ character who becomes a victim of the latest haunting, does not come across as entirely genuine despite the premise of her trying to reconnect with her dead mother. A potential relationship with the typical ‘cute boy next door’ is an idea dropped once it has served its purpose of leading to a jump scare early on – you know, that one you’ve probably seen in the trailer.
Dermot Mulroney, who plays her father, does not have much to do aside from a few key references to his dead wife – otherwise he spends most of the movie running around after his daughter, looking flustered. It all builds to a rather predictable climax with the film’s antagonist spirit, encounters with whom admittedly make for some decent atmospheric scenes, but in the end is easily defeated by… well, ‘sentiment’ is the simplest way to describe it.
The creepiest moments owe a debt to the two classic horror movies I have mentioned above, which isn’t to say they’re not executed well; only that we’ve seen this kind of thing before. There are otherwise some nice effects that build up the atmosphere early on – in particular Quinn’s early encounters with the ‘demon’, who waves at her from a distance.
For a few brief moments, the film somehow makes the simple action of ‘waving at someone’ creepy in the same fashion that It Follows did for ‘walking towards someone’. The crucial difference between the two horror films is that the latter was built on this unique premise; whereas here it is the exception in a film of many bad habits.
That’s this movie’s main problem: it feels unbalanced, in its writing and its execution. You get the feeling there are some scenes about which director Leigh Whannell (in what is his directorial debut) feels more passionate, while at other times he’s going through the motions of what should be in a typical horror film. I’d like to see what he can do with freer reins than he’s clearly had here, as there are some pleasantly surprising and worthwhile moments in Insidious Chapter 3. Unfortunately they’re just a little too few and far between.
6 / 10