Horror is a weird genre. I don’t mean weird as in, “hey, look at that guy in the Bob Hope mask stabbing people to death.” I mean, it’s hard to get right, and it’s even harder to talk about. Because a good horror movie should be a little of everything; scary, obviously, but also a little funny and sweet and dramatic and suspenseful and sad, but not so sad you feel like you’re watching a Frederico Fellini movie. The tragedy of Insidious Chapter 3 is that, in a lot of ways, its a much stronger movie than the first two installments because it manages to hit all of these notes, but is forced to live in it’s predecessors culty shadow.
Quinn Brenner (Stephanie Scott) is a high school senior who, after the death of her mother, is left to take care of her family and try to face her looming post-graduation future. In a totally reasonable act of desperation, she reaches out to the spirit of her mom, but what she gets instead is a spectral stalker who wants her to join his harem of girl ghost groupies. Dermot Mulroney is here doing what Dermot Mulroney does best: playing the hapless fish-out-of-water father who is torn between disbelief and desperation as he watches his daughter get physically and emotionally mangled by something he can’t see. (It’s a specific niche, but he totally owns it). Lin Shaye is back as Elise, the medium who must travel into “the Further” to save Quinn’s soul.
Doesn’t sound super ground-breaking, right? That’s because it isn’t. Making a horror movie is like competing in the Hollywood version of Iron Chef; you’ve got to work with the ingredients (tropes) you’re given, and what makes it good is how it all comes together. In this case, there are two things that make Insidious Chapter 3 particularly watchable. The first are the crazy strong performances from Scott and Shaye. Most female driven horror films tend to veer off into a disappointing direction (re: Hellraiser, Halloween, Prom Night, ect.). And while the two female leads are victimized and exploited, this movie is mostly about two women trying to save their souls. Shaye’s Elise kicks an absurd amount of ass, and Scott’s Quinn manages to hit that elusive Scream Queen sweet spot: vulnerable but feisty, angsty but likeable. The male characters are good too, but they are mostly there to fill the obligatory white male quota. There’s even a moment in the movie where Elise tells one of those white males, Quinn’s narratively irrelevant younger brother, that while his presence is appreciated, it’s unnecessary.
The other thing that saves Chapter 3 from horror movie mediocrity is that it’s genuinely scary. I don’t have any problem with pop-out cheap shots (which is good since this movie has several) but there’s also underlying tension in this Insidious that I just didn’t feel in the other two. For reasons that can’t be explained, spoiler-free, Quinn spends most of the movie bedridden or in a wheelchair, and that sense of confinement and helplessness translates into a sort of Rear Window type suspense. The result is a movie that deserves way better than to be labeled as a prequel to movies that are, in some ways, inferior.
Verdict: If you like horror, go see it. It won’t rock your world, but there are more than enough good hand-wringing moments to make up for it.