Note. This review contains spoilers for Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2.
She died in Chapter 1. And she provided a considerable amount of help to the characters of Chapter 2 (of course, in spirit) in their fight against life-threatening demons. With writer/director Leigh Whannell’s Insidious: Chapter 3, Elise Rainier (the marvelous Lin Shaye), the badass psychic and ghostbuster, is once again back in the flesh, and she is as fearless as ever. But don’t worry; this is not a ludicrous reincarnation story. It is instead an origin tale that takes us several years back from the events depicted in Insidious and introduces us to Elise’s backstory. The partly effective, jump-scare-driven retroactive installment sadly lacks the cool, gritty sophistication of the James Wan-directed, sinisterly atmospheric previous chapters, which you should ideally seek out beforehand. Yet, it’s still a functional entry to the horror series that gives us a load more of “The Further” as well as its spine-chilling beings that eerily (and thankfully, invisibly) live amongst us. Sure, we lose the plucky Lambert couple of the first two films –played by the terrific duo Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson (who scared the living bejesus out of everyone by playing a demonically possessed dad in the second installment). But what we gain is Elise, Elise, and more Elise. So, one can’t really complain that much.
It’s been almost 5 years since we were first introduced to “The Further,” the otherworld that houses demonic spirits stuck in an in-between space that crave nothing more than possessing human life once more. But for the reluctant teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), who visits Elise in her pink dress and sculpted waves at the start of the film, the concept is foreign. Quinn seeks Elise’s help with contacting her recently deceased mother and tells her she hears things, feels a presence, and suspects her mom is trying to contact her. Having given up on her craft after repeatedly dreadful experiences, Elise refuses to help her at first. Those of us who’ve seen the first Insidious recognize the “Bride in Black” that clung itself onto the young Josh Lambert at once and understand the basis of her rejection. But being taken by Quinn’s sweetness and smarts—Elise instantly knows she is smart in case you suspect her talents as a psychic, because Quinn’s actions often suggest otherwise—she eventually gives in. Yet Elise cuts the séance short after another unwanted encounter and Quinn returns home to her dad (the attractively disheveled Dermot Mulroney) empty handed, after Elise warns her to never try and contact her mother on her own.
Convenient for the film, Quinn lives in a creepy, gothic-looking apartment building –with hallways reminiscent of those in Annabelle and Rosemary’s Baby, and naturally, disregards Elise’s warnings despite her better judgment. Soon enough, their apartment gets contaminated by spirits –as Elise warns Quinn, once you call out to one spirit, others can hear you too– and one especially frightening ghoul with severe breathing problems leeches himself onto Quinn. Elise senses something is off, emerges out of thin air to help the family, and the fun begins.
There is nothing particularly original or new about Insidious: Chapter 3. There are jump scares, dimly lit spaces, characters making poor choices over and over again, and parents as lifeguards and loving saviors who will go the distance for their babies. From The Ring to The Conjuring and beyond, we’ve seen it all before. Yet, if you can look further than the occasionally shaky (and OK, ridiculous) dialogue and one particular scene with Elise that contradicts the logic of how one reunites with their body after taking a leisurely stroll in “The Further”, there is really nothing offensive about it either.
The camera, as is the case with many examples of the horror genre, mischievously hides and abruptly reveals things to successfully score instant screams. Whannell (who wrote the script for all three chapters), along with his cinematographer Brian Pearson, consistently hints at terror as he teases what might be hiding behind closet doors or at the end of dark hallways. Plus, unlike the first two movies, the fear in this chapter is not suburban, and instead is fed through the stacked spaces of apartment buildings, which is a tad refreshing considering the amount of horror films set in single-family houses in the middle of nowhere. The added perk is getting to learn how the nerdy duo Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Whannell himself) got to be a part of Elise’s “business” at the first place. Insidious: Chapter 3 will certainly not be the best thriller of 2015 (I suspect that honors will belong to It Follows), but alongside its occasional campy humor, it will give you enough images to lose sleep over.