Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The latest film in the “Insidious” franchise is probably the least scary of the bunch so far, but it’s frights are pretty typical: some characters die, including by suicide; demons, ghosts, and other supernatural beings make appearances and try to frighten or possess people; some creepy and nightmarish images including those beings, such as a woman who appears without a face or limbs; some violence, including attacks and a car accident; some kissing and mention of sex; some cursing.
The ‘Insidious’ franchise continues with ‘Chapter 3,’ the prequel format of which doesn’t entirely work. The scares are getting less effective, too.
By Roxana Hadadi
The world that the “Insidious” films have created is a memorable one: the afterlife space called “the Further”; the creepiness of the ghosts who haven’t let go of this world, appearing unexpectedly in the most random of places; the absurd, nightmarish visuals of the demons who call that place home. There were memorable villains in “Insidious” and “Insidious 2” that have probably given viewers countless nightmares, but “Insidious: Chapter 3” is not that impactful. These scares are too familiar to frighten.
The events of “Insidious” and “Insidious 2” focused on a multigenerational haunting of the Lambert family, a supernatural presence that started haunting a father and then passed to one of his sons; in those films, the family reaches out to a paranormal investigator, Elise (Lin Shaye, of “Ouija”) to help save them. This prequel, set “a few years” before the events of those films, focuses mostly on Elise, who is totally different from the confident, collected woman we’ve known before. In “Chapter 3,” she’s grieving the death of her husband by suicide and has quit delving into the supernatural after she tried to communicate with him, and was instead threatened by an old hag, who said she would kill Elise if she ever ventured into “the Further” again. Lost and alone, Elise wants nothing to do with anyone.
But then comes a knock on her door: Teenager Quinn (Stefanie Scott, of “Wreck-It Ralph”) has recently lost her mother to breast cancer, and her widower father (Dermot Mulroney, of “Jobs”), just doesn’t understand what Quinn is going through. She wants to communicate with her mother and wants Elise’s help, but the woman refuses. Rather, she leaves Quinn with some advice—”If you call out to one of the dead, all of them can hear you”—that the teenager promptly ignores.
So Quinn tries to contact her mother on her own, fails, and then suffers a terrible car accident that breaks both her legs, rendering her immobile and practically trapped in the apartment she shares with her father and younger brother. And then, creepy things start happening: strange noises coming from the upstairs apartment, weird issues with the vents, oily black footprints appearing in Quinn’s room, strange figures in the periphery of her vision. Something—a being called the Man Who Can’t Breathe—has attached itself to Quinn and is trying to possess her, and the haunting can’t be stopped without Elise’s help. Will she come to Quinn’s aid? And if she does, what of the threat from “the Further,” that Elise would be killed? Is she putting them both in danger?
“Insidious: Chapter 3” isn’t a long film, clocking in at a pretty standard 97 minutes, but it takes its time setting things up: We get sufficient backstory for Elise and her grief, and enough attention is paid to Quinn’s aspirations and interests (an interest in theater school, a frustration with her overprotective father) that she feels like a real teenage girl rather than a generic stereotype. But at the same time, the film feels overly indulgent with little things about this narrative that don’t really matter. Were audiences really clamoring to know why this spectral plane is called “the Further”? Does it matter how Elise joined up with other paranormal investigators? There are parts of the plot that feel too insular, especially for viewers new to this franchise, and feel like padding of the plot rather than actual forward movement.
And then there are the scares, which fall into the same formula: beings lurking in corners and jumping into the frame; loud, jarring music; a reliance on garish makeup smeared onto villains and strange physical movements to make them seem even freakier. The oily black being is bizarre, but not entirely unique (especially if you saw another recent horror film, “Jessabelle,” that featured the same thing), and the way the supernatural beings toy with Quinn feels like last month’s “Poltergeist” remake. There’s just not really anything new here.
Much like the “Paranormal Activity” films had to stretch to add new characters and dream up new mythology as the franchise stumbled along, so too does “Insidious” with “Chapter 3.” The film doesn’t feel different enough to stand on its own, or integrated enough with the former two “Insidious” films to feel truly worthwhile. Hopefully, it’s a misstep for the franchise—not a new direction.
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