What do you do when you write yourself into a corner after just one successful sequel? If you are Leigh Whannell, the screenwriter of the first two “Insidious” frightfests, you look backwards and pen a prequel.
The poor haunted Lambert family (Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor and Barbara Hershey) of the first two films are nowhere to be seen in “Insidious: Chapter 3.” In their place are the Brenners, widower Sean (Dermot Mulroney) and teenage daughter Quinn (Stefanie Scott), the kind of teenager who wears a Pixies t-shirt even though their best material was recorded years before she was born. They’re first family to encounter the spooky demons of the netherworld known as The Further that spooked the Lamberts.
Seeking to make contact with her late mother the youngster gets in touch with psychic Elise Rainier (Lin “The Godmother of Horror” Shaye). The mystic warns her about the dangers of dabbling in the great beyond—“You have to be very careful. If you call out to one of the dead all of them can hear you.”—and soon Quinn is attacked by malevolent entity (is there any other kind?) who steals half her soul. To rescue the girl Elise does battle with a demon hungry for human souls.
“Insidious: Chapter 3” is the first of the series not to be directed by James Wan who is apparently too busy making movies like “Furious 7” to return to the lo-fi scares of “Insidious.” In his place is Whannell, who did double duty as screenwriter. He understands the inner workings of these movies better than anyone, but where Wan ensured the first two movies were thrill rides that played on primal fears, Whannell‘s is the stuff of carnival haunted houses. It’s a quiet movie peppered with nightmarish images of creatures with no eyes and giant clawed feet embellished by old school effects created with make-up, sound and lighting. Some are quite effective and there are a couple of scary, inventive thrills late in the game, but far too much of the film is devoted to set up. The first hour and a quarter is a prologue of sorts for the handful of shocks that comprise the climax.
Shaye comes up with several ways to battle demons not even Dr. Peter Venkman had thought of but most of “Insidious: Chapter 3” isn’t scary enough to warrant any ghostbusting at all.