BY RACHEL CATLETT
I was a big fan of the first installment of the Insidious series. The first time I saw it, I regarded it as one of the scariest movies I had ever seen. But it had no replay value, meaning the second time I watched it, I was amazed that it had scared me as much as it had. This is because the horror of Insidious is all jump scares and little substance, its third chapter being no exception. While the first Insidious was a somewhat original thematic homage to classic horror, Insidious: Chapter 3 is just like any other cheaply-made teen-oriented horror flick of the last decade, with one female performance being the only real standout.
I did not see the second instalment of the Insidious franchise, but a trusted friend and fellow horror fan assured me it was skippable when I told him I was preparing to review the third. The the most recent chapter of Insidious takes place a few years prior to the events of the first film, as contextualized by the main character’s flip phone and spotty video chatting. The protagonist this time around is your typical super cool psuedo-hipster teenager that pretty much never exists in real life. Quinn Brenner, played by the somewhat endearing Stefanie Scott, is a high school senior struggling in the wake of her mother’s death.
The movie does not really make us care about Quinn or her family even with the stale, but effective “Girl Who Lost Her Mother” plot. I dragged my younger sister to the theatre to see the film with me, and we lost our mother when we were quite young, making us pretty easy targets to get choked up when that subject manner graces the big screen. But neither of us felt a pang in our chest for Quinn, or shed a single tear when psychic Elise (horror icon Lin Shaye) allows Quinn and her father closure by communicating with their lost loved one. Speaking of which, Dermot Mulroney does his best in the latter role, but is just boring that not even my years-long crush on him and his sexy lip scar could make his character compelling.
The film’s leads are not the only ones to suffer from lazy character development. As we all know, Lin Shaye is a treasure. I was captivated by her character in the first film and wanted desperately to know more about her. Apparently, I was not alone, as this film heavily features Elise and shows the backstory of her and her techie sidekicks. Unfortunately, while Lin Shaye acts the hell out of the material, there’s not enough in the writing.
Instead of fleshing her out more, the writers saw fit to give Elise a quick and cliche motivator in the form of her dead husband and have her constantly repeat that she’s left the psychic business/given up that life over and over. Elyse has the moment of the film, however, headbutting the shit out of a ghost and egging her on with an expertly delivered “Bring it, bitch.” I would give all my money to an Elise spin-off.
If this franchise does anything right it’s jump scares, but they were not as potent in this iteration as they were in the first film. In fact, the jump scares felt cheap, with the exception being one pretty great scene immediately after Quinn is possessed. Body horror pretty successfully freaks me out, and this was a nice little bit of it in the middle of a tame and unnecessary ghost story. I will admit, however, I was disappointed that there wasn’t nearly as much of the excellent monster acting and great ghost makeup this time around.
At its core, Insidious 3 is a film about the horror of being made powerless by nature and by our own bodies. Quinn’s terror begins after she is incapacitated by a car crash. With both of her legs bound up in casts, she is totally helpless to fight off the nameless monster attempting to take hold of her. A shambling horror without hands, feet, or a face crawls toward Quinn after she is abducted by the demon, and she is faced to watch this horrifically disabled version of herself without being able to make any movements to help. The demon tormenting Quinn embodies disease and decay; grotesque and reliant on a respirator, he is the very picture of the horrible inevitability of mortality.
Elise reminds the viewer many times that death comes for us all, just as it comes for the loved ones of so many of the movie’s characters. The elderly black woman who warns Quinn of the entity in her room is a more subtle reminder of how our bodies can, and likely will, betray us. While we see her at the end of her wits and life, her husband reminds Quinn’s father (and the audience) that once upon a time she was a beautiful and vivacious woman. We are forced to recognize that while we are healthy and able now, her fate can easily be ours, and it is a nightmare more likely to come for us than a demon.