Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ghost Of Franchises Past

Year: 2015
Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

James Wan and Leigh Whannell are a kick-ass horror team. Their first joint outing, Saw, changed the horror game of the early 2000's. I may not be a big fan of where that rabbit hole led, but the fact remans that their grubby shocker was one of the best of the business at the turn of the millennium. And their followup, Insidious (Dead Silence? Never heard of it.), is a chilling throwback haunted house tale that brought the fangs back to PG-13 horror and reintroduced the world to horror icon Lin Shaye, paving the way for a series of successful spooky tales like The Conjuring and Sinister.

Now, I was no fan of Insidious: Chapter 2, which I found to be juvenile and hackneyed, but the fact remains that their teamwork still produced a film with a handful of stellar scares and a fascinating visual palette. And God help me, but I do secretly love when horror franchises go a little off the rails.

The thing about Insidious: Chapter 3 is that its the first film in the franchise to cleave the union. With James Wan busy working on bigger, skydivier things, Whannell was left to his own devices, taking on the role of director on top of his screenwriting and acting duties. It's a lot to handle, and he does so admirably, considering. This third entry in the franchise has neither the creative gusto of the first or the brassy, bold aesthetic of the second, but it's a remarkably decent entry in a series unabashedly prone to reinvigorating the hoariest clichés of the genre.

This image could be from literally any movie released this decade. And my money's on Deliver Us From Evil, to tell you the truth.

Inidious 3 takes place several years before the events of the original film, meaning that the cell phones are blockier, the cars are more old-fashioned, and Dermot Mulroney gets starring roles in films. High school student Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) lives with her overwhelmed single father Sean (Dermot Mulroney), who has an important, manly job like Contractor or Foreman or something. She meets with the medium Elise (Lin Shaye) in an attempt to contact her dear, departed mother. Unfortunately, when she reaches out into the spirit world, something else reaches back. 

After she breaks her legs in a car accident following an audition for a renowned theater school, she finds herself being haunted by The Man Who Can't Breathe (Michael Reid MacKay, who also played the Mummy in the prestigious Monster Squad), a mysterious inky black ghost wearing a gas mask that seems to live upstairs and travels through the vents into her room at night. Calling upon the help of Elise and her soon-to-be sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), the Brenners must face the most evilest evil ever unleashed.

Which retroactively makes the first two films just that much more confusing - you'd think Elise would know how to handle things by then.

This time, instead of taking cues from Poltergeist like the first films, the plot has a very Exorcist slant. Points for variety I guess. You know: little girl possessed by an entity that may or may not be masquerading as her sickness, single parent watching nervously from the sidelines, and a plot that focuses more on the expert helping her (Elise, being the big franchise link here, gets a much expanded role, including shutting down her business following the grief of her husband's death and threats from an otherworldly force). It's textbook stuff, really.

Insidious: Chapter 3 has its share of flaws but I enjoyed it, so let's keep things positive and get the complaining out now so we can get to the good stuff. First of all, the plot is very dub. That was unavoidable, especially for a film set in the same universe as Insidious 2, in which plot twists were to be found in places that should have been thoroughly checked over 3 decades before. I'm still mad. Nothing in this film is quite so enervating as that, thankfully, but there are still a variety of insoluble problems at the script level.

The beginning is beholden to some claptrap paranormal-babble, which is par for the course, but the simplistic, kindergarten-esque insistence on dark vs light is a little cloying. However, the real issues begin with the third act, which always seems to be the turning point for these films, and Leigh Whannell's weakest link as a writer. The heroes attempt to solve their problem by doing the exact same thing that screwed them up the first time, the only way they're saved is through a Mount Olympus-worth of deus ex machina, we're asked to be shocked by several twists so immensely obvious they can be seen from space, and at one point Lin Shaye inexplicably turns into Ripley from Aliens.

In addition, Dermot Mulroney can't find anything to do with his character, which is a shame considering that he's the thematic and emotional lynchpin of the film,with his fear that he might lose hi daughter to the inevitability of death just like his wife. It's interesting enough in its recitation that he doesn't ruin the film, but the role might as well have been performed by a cardboard cutout of Mel Gibson. Luckily Lin Shaye returns to form, instilling real terror into her broken and fragile Elise, though she trips up occasionally on her more treacly cheerful scenes.

I don't think this woman has played a happy role in her life.

But hey! We can be negative until the cows come home, but we can't milk them with a frown. Or... something. Let's move on to the good stuff. 

Insidious 3 isn't a knock-your-socks-off terror gauntlet, but it's a well-oiled boo machine with a couple lasting frights sprinkled amid the jump scares. There's perhaps nothing more frightening than the one or two truly stellar moments of Insidious 2, but as a whole, it is far more consistent in encapsulating the roller coaster of screams that most modern horror strives to be. The viscous, oily design of The Man Who Can't Breathe is nightmare fuel in its own right, and his intensely terrifying visage amps up even the most feebly generic moments.

The franchise's signature comic relief is also present, in extremely palatable amounts. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson have shown a penchant for horror comedy (though, if I were to pick between Insidious and 100 Bloody Acres, it would be the latter any day of the week), and here their work is reliably charming, though it thankfully doesn't overpower the horror.

The Further is perhaps the least appealing returning element, though it does afford the film its only truly spectacular image: a blood red elevator door lost in a chill blue ghost dimension. Why the ghosts would feel the need to use an elevator, especially in their ectoplasmic domain remains unknown. But hey! Insidious: Chapter 3 is decently pretty, pretty scary, and scarily funny, so it's far from a disappointment, all things considered.

TL;DR: Insidious: Chapter 3 is a great addition to its franchise with its cheery dumbness and a variety of effective if cliché scares.
Rating: 6/10
Should I Spend Money On This? Only if you really liked the first one. You do not need to see the second. Don't feel the urge to catch up, I beg you. 
Word Count: 1252
Reviews In This Series
Insidious (Wan, 2010)
Insidious: Chapter 2 (Wan, 2013)
Insidious: Chapter 3 (Whannell, 2015)
Insidious: The Last Key (Robitel, 2018)

1 comment:

  1. I saw the first one and thought it was a pretty good horror film, it surprised me how good it was. I never saw the sequel though. It seems that alot of this franchise's greatness resides within a well designed creepy demon and Lin Shaye being an awesome medium.