Sunday, 11 October 2015


Along with Paranormal Activity, one of the first franchises to take hold in the post-Saw landscape is Blumhouse's Insidious series. The first came across as Poltergeist for a new generation (before some bright spark decided the world actually needed a new Poltergeist), while the second (reviewed here) was a decent sequel that never really hit the highs of its predecessor.
The third hit cinemas earlier this year and will get its home release on 12th October, just in time for Halloween.
But is third time a charm?
Read on...


Dir: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tate Berney, Steve Coulter, Ashtob Moio, Hayley Kiyoko, Adrian Sparks, Ele Keats, Michael Reid Mackay

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk, needless to say there will be spoilers for the first two Insidious movies.

Set before the events of the first Insidious, Chapter 3 is the story of young Quinn (Scott) who believes that her recently deceased mother Lillith (Keats) is trying to contact her from the other side. Curious, she decides to contact a medium and comes across series regular Elise (Shaye). However, Elise is still getting over the loss of her late husband and has ceased using her gift after a series of threatening encounters with a malevolent entity (The Bride in Black from the first two films).
At first loathe to take the risk, she eventually acquiesces when she sees how much this means to the young Quinn. However the seance is cut short when the spectre of Parker Crane once again attacks. Terminating the session, Elise informs Quinn that she cannot help her but leaves her with a warning to be careful, for when you call out to one of the dead all of them can hear you.
Back home Quinn noticed some bizarre occurrences, including creepy noises, but she thinks nothing of it, distracted by attempting to learn her lines for an upcoming theatre audition. This proves extremely challenging though, as her father Sean (Mulroney) heaps far too much responsibility, essentially charging her with all the housekeeping and watching over her younger brother Alex (Berney) while he goes out tow work to keep a roof over their head.
After Quinn reaches New York she fluffs the audition when she is distracted by a shadowy figure gesturing to her. Later that same evening she spots the figure once again while crossing the road — however the distraction causes her to get hit by a speeding car, which causes severe injuries.
With both her legs broken and in plaster, Sean brings his daughter home and puts her to bed. However, her sanctuary soon becomes a cell as she realises that she is being stalked by a demonic entity from the Further, the rasping Man Who Can't Breathe (Mackay). As the otherworldly being's assaults become more vicious, Sean first turns to Elise (who once again nearly falls victim to The Bride in Black), then a pair of video-bloggers recommended by his son, Tucker and Specs (the returning Sampson and Whannell).
Eventually the desperate group are forced to rally together when they realise that the Man Who Can't Breathe has a very different MO to most of the predatory entities in The Further — rather than drag the souls of the living into the afterlife to possess their empty bodies, he takes them so he can torture their frightened souls for ever.
Can Quinn escape his vile clutches? Can Elise overcome her personal demons to battle this one? And what else is lurking in the Further waiting to strike?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Arguably the strongest element of the last two Insidious films was the character of psychic ghostbuster Elise and genre stalwart Shaye's sterling performances. Here, she's finally moved more into the spotlight as she's given a much more prominent role.
This really works, not least because the always fantastic Shaye is once again on tiptop form. Elsewhere Mulroney impresses, as well you might expect from an actor with his experience, while young Scott is also fantastic. She's a likeable young lady and, although this isn't necessarily the most complex role, she totally hits all of her marks, really nailing the vulnerability of her character. She looks legitimately terrified at times, which suggests she could make for a superb scream queen in the future. Here's hoping she sticks with the genre.
Of course a great cast is wasted if they don't have strong material to work with. Luckily Whannell's script is pretty damn good. In fact, I'd argue that Insidious 3 has some of the scariest moments of the entire series. This is thanks to the great villain, Mackay's Man Who Can't Breathe, a nightmarish creation, emphasising Mackay's gaunt features, a seemingly sickly man in a tattered hospital gown with an oxygen mask permanently affixed to his glowering face. Leaving a trail of black, oozing footprints and with his harsh, rattling breath, he's a marked improvement on Mrs Crane and her gender-confused son in the previous film. 
What's more, the character's unique M.O. and steadily escalating attacks, when combined with the vulnerability of our lead, makes for some genuinely unsettling setpieces.
Credit must also go to Whannell for the way in which the script and pacing keep these attacks interesting. For while the script does actually fall into a rather repetitive cycle of 'attack, lull, attack, lull' it remains interesting because each attack becomes more frightening and intense than the event that preceded it. Luckily, Whannell also realises when the attacks have reached their peak and has outside help get involved at exactly the right time.
Whannell took over directorial duties from his long-term collaborator and co-creator of Saw, James Wan. I've waxed lyrical about the respect I have for Wan's directorial style before, especially the good, old-fashioned way in which he  crafts his frights. If the likes of The Conjuring and Dead Silence taught us one thing about Wan, it's that he is a fan of horror classics, and I'm delighted to say that Whannell seems to have learnt plenty of top spooky storytelling tips from his colleague. 
There are some rocky moments here and there, but for a first time gig with a production of this magnitude, it's a fantastic effort. Whannell's style is a little rawer and edgier, less classical than Wan's, but the cinematography by Brian Pearson ensures that the film still looks absolutely gorgeous and that there's no glaring shift between Chapter 3 and the previous Insidious movies. This edginess adds to the danger of scenes, it keeps you on edge, a vital prerequisite in making those jumpscares payoff.
And yes, there are scares, plenty of them. However, unlike a lot of modern horror films that rely almost entirely on keyboard slam jolts, Insidious Chapter 3 combines legitimate, well-earned jumps with carefully crafted creepy atmosphere and proper horror thrills. For those of you who have grown tired of modern film-makers who seem to have confused jumps and vile gory acts of torture and mutilation with actual scares, this will be a refreshing breath of fresh air.
Finally the ending — I don't want to spoil it, but it's intelligent and actually suggests that the inevitable Chapter 4 could take place in two timelines, immediately after this chapter and again in the future, following on from the finale of Chapter 2. That I'm very much interested in such a film suggests that Whannell et al have done more than enough to keep me onside.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Insidious: Chapter 3 is a very good movie, however, it is not without its flaws.
Chief among these is the fact that, as great as the first two acts are, the third feels like it falls a little flat. It's almost as if the film was so beholden to reintroduce elements from the first two Insidious movies that it lost some of the momentum of its own story. As nice as it is to see Specs, Tucker and even Steve Coulter's Carl (albeit for one inconsequential scene), their inclusion is entirely unnecessary as Elise could just have easily swanned in at exactly the same point having had a change of heart through some soul-searching and the film could have had precisely the same ending.
I understand that it was done to show how Specs, Tucker and Elise became a team, but even that falls a little flat. A film in which all three were given plenty of screen time and would effectively utilise each other's strengths would surely have made for a more stirring take than 'Tucker and Specs are just charlatans who get bailed out by Elise who honestly doesn't need them in the slightest'.
Although I want to take this opportunity to talk about just how amazing the always excellent Sampson's Zangief-esque Mohawk and beard are. Bravo, sir. Bravo.
And now to the climax. While it does have some pretty creepy imagery, it's just not anywhere near as frightening as the scenes that have come before. It's not a total wash-out by any stretch of the imagination, it's just that my expectations were raised by the earlier scenes and sadly, it failed to live up to them.
That isn't to say that the well-crafted scares were also without flaw. Whannell is clever in that he slowly sucks all background noise and the score out of a scene before springing his jolts, a very unnerving trick indeed. However, once you notice that he's doing this, the brief moments of total silence before each jump effectively act as an early warning, which robs them of some of their impact.
Finally, the Brenner family, despite being brought to life by a talented cast, didn't quite have the depth of the Lamberts in the previous movies. Once again, I think they may have suffered from a lack of development due to a plot that tried to juggle too many balls at once. Maybe if they return to play a role in future instalments in the franchise they can be fleshed out a little more.

THE VERDICT: In a year in which recent rivals The Conjuring and Sinister also released sequels and spin-offs, it is Insidious: Chapter 3 that most certainly comes out on top thanks to a wonderful star in Shaye, superb direction from Whannell, a compelling story and some excellently crafted creepy set pieces. If you enjoyed the first film, or even if you just fancy something a little different from the endless conveyer belt of Found Footage horror films on shop shelves, this is a movie that's well worth your time.
You can buy Insidious Chapter 3 at Amazon here.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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