Usually, by the time a horror franchise trundles into it’s third installment, it’s a fair bet that the orginal creative minds that started the whole thing have retreated back into executive producer roles and have turned their minds onto newer and fresher material. There’s no shame in it as it’s perfectly acceptable to want to head off and concentrate on different projects but sooner or later, everyone takes a step back…
Allow me to present the exception to the rule: ladies and gentlemen, mister Leigh Whannell!
As James Wan’s buddy/scripter, Whannell has been at the forefront of both their careers, simultaneously acting in and writing the first Saw film and the first two Insidious movies as well as penning Saw 2 and 3, but here he finally has stepped up to clench a microphone in a sweaty hand to write, acting AND DIRECT the third installment of the Insidious series making him one of the few people whose involvement with a long running horror franchise has actually GROWN.
Set years before the supernatural events that befell the standard white family in the first movie, we focus on a Quinn, a teenage girl morning the loss of her mother who visits a retired and reclusive Elise Rainier in order to contact her loved one on the other side.
Experiencing no luck in that endeavour, and even LESS luck when she’s subsequently mown down by a careless motorist, Quinn finds herself bedridden and unable to escape the strained relationship with her grieving father. However, experiencing agonising social anxiety with a mourning parent will soon become the least of her problems as before you can say “Insidious Chapter 3”, she’s bothered by a sadistic spirit known by the uncatchy moniker as “The Man Who Cannot Breathe” (aka The Wheezing Demon – which is actually worse) who wants to possess her soul and take over her body. Calling in returning paranormal investigators Specs and Tucker (who are revealed to be frauds), Quinn’s father is beside himself as his daughter falls deeper under the ghost’s influence but the surprise arrival of Elise (who takes Tucker and Specs under her wing) may yet still turn the tide. But can Elise possibly save Quinn when she herself has her own malevolent spectre to contend with, the murderous Bride In Black, who has pledged to kill her after having a run in during a past cleansing?
The main problem with this Third chapter in the Insidious series is that it can’t seem to commit solidly to the plot in hand when Whannell seems to be having way too much fun connecting almost everything he can back to the previous two movies and if you somehow have come into this movie blind you are going to have utterly no clue as to what the hell characters are referencing 40% of the time (although to be fair, if you start a franchise with something labelled Chapter 3 you kind of deserve everything you get).
Thankfully the story focuses mostly on the franchise’s most interesting character, that of amiable medium Elise Rainier, but despite being an origin of sorts, Whannell doesn’t actually give her anything new to do above the usual shouting at wind machines and calmly explaining the plot to panicking family – although she does get to be the one carring the trademark Insidious lantern during the standard, climactic wander through the supernatural surroundings of The Further.
It’s surprising that for someone who has essentially created this universe, Whannell has preciously little new to add despite now literally calling the shots. You can see he’s desperately copying James Wan’s style in order to keep a sense of visual continuity going but he manages it at the expense of his own directorial voice which subsequently bleeds into everything else. The casting, acting, plot and direction feel serviceable but also very pedestrian which leaves you free to question anything in the film you don’t immediately accept. Why on earth does a ghost need breathing apparatus when he no longer breathes, is asthma a common condition in the afterlife? I understand it’s all part of the aesthetic the movie is going for but later on it’s revealed that yanking the mask off actually does have a negative effect on the phantom – so what the hell? Do I need to look into a comprehensive health plan even after I’m dead? And also, being a scary, body-possessing demon isn’t that impressive if you can be temporarily halted by an elderly woman planting a headbutt on the bridge of your ghost-nose.
Now I totally understand that this is all only a movie and should be treated as such, but if the film was tighter and scarier, you wouldn’t have the time for your mind to start wandering while the film is still playing.
However as an important postscript, years later Whannell would find a far stronger directorial voice in impressive, low budget, sci-fi, blood sprayer Upgrade and, at the time of writing, putting the finishing touches on a radical new version of The Invisible Man, so the the triple-threat filmmaker really has come on leaps and bounds since but that doesn’t stop this particular Chapter 3 feeling far more like a afterword…