The Insidious franchise thrives on its jump scares. People don’t see these movies for story, characters or any dramatic subtext; what people want is to be scared. The original Insidious was a pleasant surprise, a simple ghost story that was elevated by unique visuals and effective scares. The sequel was a definite step down, but I still found it interesting enough on an initial viewing. Now it seems that the producers of the film are determined to turn a once simple story into an ongoing franchise with Insidious: Chapter 3. It’s easily the most unnecessary entry in the franchise thus far, abandoning the Lambert family that the first two films centered on. This would be fine if writer/director Leigh Whannell was able to produce an interesting story, but it mostly feels like a retread of the original and the characters and dialogue are absolutely brutal to watch at times. Still, the most important aspect of these movies is the scares and, in this regard, fans of the franchise will not be disappointed.

Set several years before the events of the first movie, Chapter 3 begins by introducing us to a young woman named Quinn (Stefanie Scott). She recently lost her mother and is having a difficult relationship with her father (Dermot Mulroney). She begins to suspect that her mother is attempting to contact her from beyond the grave, which leads her to visit Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), a retired psychic. Elise warns Quinn that her attempts to contact her mother have resulted in a sinister force to become attached to her. This supernatural being will stop at nothing to gain control of Quinn’s soul and Elise will have to come out of retirement to stop it.

Former director of the franchise James Wan may have moved on to bigger and better things, but Whanell wrote and starred in the previous two entries, so he fits in nicely as a director here. The visual style of the film is essentially the same and the visual manifestations of the creatures are usually pretty interesting to look at. The main antagonist of the film is particularly creepy and his appearance is initially shrouded in mystery. This makes the sequences with him a lot more frightening because we’re not exactly sure what monstrosity Whannell is hiding from us. He’s able to cook up some pretty intense sequences of suspense, particularly in one where an entity appears in Quinn’s room. As she lies helpless on the floor, the being slowly walks around the room, removing any potential light sources. Scenes like this one are fun and will keep you waiting for the next scare, but it’s hard to determine if these scenes are actually scary or if they only work because the audience is bracing themselves for a really loud noise.

But it’s when the film steps away from its scares that things truly begin to fall apart. Other than Elise, the characters in this film are not interesting at all and Quinn and her father aren’t strong enough to carry the majority of the film. The first scene in the film has Quinn contacting Elise, which feels like a strange beginning. If this story focused on Elise it could have worked, but to throw us into the middle of the action from the perspective of a character whom we haven’t met before just feels forced. But it’s nowhere near as bad as the introduction of Quinn’s family life. Watching her try to get ready in the morning while dealing with her father and brother isn’t only cliché, it’s painful to watch. Other new characters are introduced, including Quinn’s best friend and the boy next door, but their characters clearly only exist to somehow setup a scare. These two have zero personality or depth to them and they disappear before the film even reaches its halfway point, never to be seen again.

If there’s one aspect of this film that truly deserves praise, it’s Lin Shaye’s performance as Elise Rainier. Her performance as the sweet old lady who also happens to be a gifted psychic with the ability to combat evil has been the highlight of every Insidious film and this entry might feature the most screen time from her. Now that the Lambert family is gone, she’s become the heart and soul of the franchise. It probably would have been better to position her as the lead of the film, rather than Quinn and her father, but Shaye does an excellent job in every scene that she’s in.

From the creepy sight of an old man waving, to the possibly unintentional white face in a dark doorway at the very end of the film, Insidious: Chapter 3 has some good scares, but with an uninteresting story and lame characters, none of them are able to build into a satisfying whole.

Insidious: Chapter 3 receives 2/4

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