Even Patrick Wilson would be hard pressed to save this one.
Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015): 4 out of 10: Insidious returns to the well for a third outing after a decent first showing and a considerably improved sequel. Can this ghost nonsense held up by an excellent performance by Patrick Wilson make it without Patrick Wilson? No, but don’t blame the actors, even Patrick Wilson would be hard pressed to save this one.
Insidious: Chapter 3 is a prequel taking place a few years before the Lambert hauntings that were the focus of the first two movies. Psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is retired and living in a hoarder home when a perky teenage girl Stefanie Scott comes by with one last job. She wants someone to reach out to her dead mother. Lin Shaye does a half-hearted seance, and it turns out Lin has a Stalking (the big bad from the first two films). Unable to help the Stefanie Scott, she recommends some other psychics that could help and shuffles her out the door. Various shenanigans happen, and the Stefanie Scott’s father (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elsie to come to the aid of his daughter. And we all know what that means – a seance.
The Good: The best part of the Insidious: Chapter 3 is the performances. Two, in particular, stand out.
Dermot Mulroney is outstanding in the otherwise thankless role as the concerned father and grieving widower. He brings a subtle gravitas to what could have easily been a thankless role. He had the opportunity to be this films Patrick Wilson, but honestly, the script doesn’t give him enough to do.
Stefanie Scott as the daughter seeking help is a real find. I haven’t seen her in anything before that I can recall (According to IMDb I saw her in Small Town Crime. I honestly can’t remember seeing Small Time Crime let alone Stefanie Scott.) She is so good in the role you fully expect the filmmakers to take advantage of this fact; as you will see below, that is not the case.
Oh, one last thing. When Lin Shaye is in the netherworld/ haunted house, she has this really cool lantern with a bent metal frame. I looked to see if I could buy one but had no luck finding it. Insidious: Chapter 3 is leaving some money on the table with its lack of product tie-ins.
The Bad: Prequels to fictional works have the same issue that most movies based on well know history does. We often know who will die and definitely know who won’t. There is one scene during a later seance where more than half the characters in the scene had appeared in the first two films. As a result, we can tell that the demon isn’t going to kill them or tear an arm off or something. Hard to have tension when we know how it ends up for the majority of the cast.
Another problem with prequels is that filmmakers seem to be unable to resist the urge of telling the origin of everything that worked in the earlier films. (See the Star Wars prequels or even Solo: A Star Wars Story for a treasure trove of examples). Want to know how Lin Shaye hooked up with her comic relief internet ghostbusters (no not really) don’t worry the movie is going to tell you. The problem with this is this kind of fan service takes away from the actual story of Insidious: Chapter 3. We spend so much time with Lin Shay defeating the demon from the first two films triumphantly (Complete with distinct applaud pauses for the audience.) That we don’t have any clear idea of what is going on with the new characters in this actual story.
Which brings us to the biggest problem with Insidious: Chapter 3. Why exactly was Stefanie Scott being haunted? Did we ever establish this in any way? For that matter, why did she seek out Lin Shaye? Yes, she missed her mom and wanted to talk to her but that is such a thin premise, and she seems otherwise such a smart and well put together girl you keep waiting for some other motivation to drop. It never does.
Not that Lin Shaye helps her, anyway. Almost none of her encounters in the other realm have anything to do with the dead mother task at hand.
Which brings me to another relatively large problem I had with Insidious: Chapter 3. This is a cheap-looking film. I know these movies cost little to make, what with character actors and newcomers performing the lead roles and special effects that are just people wearing make-up. The cost of this one has to be very low. But still, why is the production design so cheap? The sets for the Dark Place look like a high school haunted house. This criticism isn’t some snarkiness. All we get is Lin Shaye and her cool lantern going down hallways constructed with plywood and a lick of paint while weirdly dressed extras do jump scares.
The Ugly: I know I am picking on this film a lot here, but you know for a psychic warrior Lin Shaye is pretty dim and easily fooled. She is constantly walking backwards, not looking behind her, assuming friendly looking ghosts in Hell are friendly, forgetting that demons can take the form of loved ones. Good lord, I would expect this from some neophyte, but the entire point of her character is that she knows what she is doing.
Also, that jump scare at the end of the film is the worst jump scare I have ever seen in any movie ever. I stand by this comment.
In Conclusion: I thought I was going to miss Patrick Wilson, but I didn’t. Dermot Mulroney and Stefanie Scott gave fantastic performances. What I missed was everything else. Insidious: Chapter 3 looks cheap and tells a muddled story full of fan service but little else. Instead of creating a new legend, it concentrated on celebrating an old one and was weaker for it.