Insidious: Chapter 3

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The latest entry in the haunted family saga of otherworldly entities and vengeful spirits, Insidious: Chapter 3 is notable for one reason, and a good one—veteran character actress Lin Shaye as reticent medium Elise Rainier.  If awards were given for performances in genre films—and they should be—Shaye would clean up.

Toiling for over four decades in laudable supporting roles in The Farrelly Brothers’ Kingpin (1996) and There’s Something About Mary (1998), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and a notable turn in the indie drama Hate Crime (2006), Shaye has, at seventy-one, her first bona fide lead in a commercial movie. And she nails it.  While some may say writer-director Leigh Whannell has given her a gift, it’s actually the other way around—she’s lifted his marginal movie up on her tiny shoulders, giving it doses of heart and grit, and giving us a lot of fun.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is star/screenwriter Leigh Whannell’s first time directing the series, taking the reins from his longtime friend and collaborator James Wan (who appears in a brief cameo). The results are middling to effective, with serviceable chills that produce goosebumps if not jolts.

Stepping back as a prequel to show us why Elise got out of and back into the business of ghost hunting, the new picture opens with a plea from distressed teen Quinn (Stefanie Scott), a high school student and aspiring actress suffering from the loss of her mother and who tracks down Elise to help her make contact.

Elise, a weary veteran of The Further, a spirit realm where unsettled souls wander about and frequently like to keep living ones captive, is adamant she doesn’t want to return to the supernatural plane, tormented by a dark entity after poking around to contact her dead husband, a traumatizing event causing her to padlock her basement “reading room” to keep the ghosts at bay.

Though Elise cautions Stefanie about not speaking to the dead (“All of them can hear you”), the depressed teen doesn’t heed her warnings, and soon enough a gooey demon is prowling around the girl’s bedroom and home, a dank, urban apartment complex. Her supportive but initially disbelieving father (Dermot Mulroney) knows something is up after discovering cracks in ceiling and squishy footprints all over the building.

After the demon kidnaps Stefanie into The Further, Elise comes out of retirement to do battle, and it’s great fun to watch Shaye navigate the darkness and shadows with such Sigourney Weaver-esque brio, along with the help of the two dim ghost chasers (Whannell, Angus Simpson) who will later become her crack spirit team.

With Insidious: Chapter 3, Whannell is moderately successful at underplaying the horror with a refreshing lack of CGI and adept use of darkness and shadow, suggestion and sound. And while there are a number of blaring shock cuts, some of which really work, the focus here is more on sustained atmosphere.

While the family story is routine and enlivened only by Mulroney, Insidious: Chapter 3 is refreshingly old school about what scares us—things that go bump in the night.  And while the new entry doesn’t outdo the original in terms of shocks, it’s miles better than the second installment and has a vibe of its own, and Shaye owns it.  And not just when battling demons.

Credit here is due for deepening Elise, particularly in a treacly but sincere scene where she confesses her regrets at being unable to say goodbye to her dead husband. This is strong stuff that would pass muster in a more substantial film, mainly due to Shaye’s commitment rather than Whannell’s writing, which in both the personal and supernatural expository moments is rudimentary at best.

A supporting character in 2010’s Insidious who has since graduated to the series’ main event, Shaye deserves to have future sequels built around her—she’s clearly having a ball, and so are we.

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