If, like many, you sat through Insidious: Chapter 2, certain you were sharing the room with a dumb sequel that unnaturally contorted like the ghost of a young girl in order to extend a concluded story, Chapter 3 brings relief. Writer and now director Leigh Whannell, taking over from James Wan, has wisely chosen to make the third film a prequel. After all Chapter 2 was a near death experience. No one in their right mind would want to go there again.
Instead we get the backstory of Lin Shaye’s medium, Elise (whether we were interested or not) and how she ended up with bargain basement Ghostbusters Specs and Tucker (Whannell, in a largely silent role, and Angus Sampson). The frame for all this prequelising? The plight of young would-be actress Stefanie Scott, a teen with a dead mother and struggling Dad who visits Shaye in the hope of connecting with the passed over matriarch. Naturally the attempt goes awry and instead a demon with a suicide fetish attaches itself to Scott, precipitating the kind of haunted house action we’ve come to expect.
Whannell’s no Wan but he’s familiar enough with the house style to effectively capitalise on all the horror clichés packed into his script. Thus we have plenty of creaking, loud noises, under the bed shots, spooks hiding on top of wardrobes, spectral footprints, faces behind curtains, in fact just about every haunted house trope you can think of – many recycled from the first two films.
The haunted homes of the first two movies are replaced by a creepy apartment block, which for the purposes of inducing chills, is poorly lit and antiquated, from the carpets to the Art Deco fixtures and fittings. It’s not hard to imagine many have died in such a building, designed by the architect responsible for the Overlook Hotel, which allows for easy suspension of disbelief when it does indeed transpire that the place is an afterlife waiting room.
Uneasy as it is, Chapter 3 is short on surprises and often bogged by down by the familiar. As the story you know well, plotted just the way you like it, muddles on, there’s the sense it’s all a little unfocused. Shorn of the sequel baggage that killed the second movie, Whannell’s third story is a simpler beast which benefits from new characters, but the script has problems which he was either unable or unwilling to solve.
Elise, like a modern day Hamlet, mystifyingly delays when she discovers all is not well in the land of the living. That’s a curious choice, as it endangers our heroine, giving the demon plenty of time to stalk his prey and coax her to an early death. Scott’s character is equally obtuse: slow to realise what’s happening, despite the movie opening with a séance, and strangely reluctant to leave her home, despite the obvious danger therein. Sure, she’s got two broken legs, but one imagines she has at least one relative who has a ground floor place with a futon bed and a preference for keeping the lights on.
Chapter 3’s solid if unremarkable spook-fare, but it’s apparent that Leigh Whannell’s out of ideas – both visually and thematically. Is there room for more variations on the theme? Surely. But it may be kinder to everyone, living and dead, if the series ended here.