Fans of the SF/Fantasy/Horror genre(s) know that there is seldom such a thing as a good sequel; in recent years the number of sequels that even come close to the original have been few indeed; and I’m inclined to include reboots in that statement. Examples of the good include Alien/Aliens; Mad Max: The Road Warrior/Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome; Batman/Batman Returns; The Terminator/Terminator II; and I’m sure you have your own favourites. (Sequelitis, where the sequels continue long after they’ve exhausted any possible goodness from the original include Alien 3/Alien: Resurrection; Superman 3/Superman 4: The Quest For Peace; Batman Forever/Batman & Robin; almost anything past the first Planet of the Apes ; and every Terminator movie past the first two. You get the picture.) And those are “mainstream” SF/F movies; it’s even worse in the horror genre, whether we’re talking “slasher” films (the Saw franchise, Rob Zombie movies) or more classical “scary” movies (Poltergeist sequels). Well, in my (occasionally) humble opinion, Insidious 3 is better than either of its predecessors. And I, in my role as reviewer, have to bite the bullet and watch a lot of crud on your behalf.
Let me make this clear: I watch horror movies for fun. I do not believe in any way, shape or form in “ghosties, ghoulies, long-leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night,” to probably misquote Robbie Burns. As a young kid, age 5 or 6, I had terrible nightmares (when I lived in Duluth, MN) about something called “miggies” that lived in my closet. As a pre-teen—one who read a lot of SF/F/H—I was afraid of all those things (ghosties, etc., not “miggies”); I knew they were real, because they pursued me in my nightmares.
Until one memorable night when I got really, really ticked off about being chased again by something that wanted to probably eat my soul or rend me limb from limb—and I turned, screamed in anger and ripped whatever it was to pieces! I remember that night clearly, because from then on, I had almost no nightmares of that sort ever again. A bit later in life I clarified my lack of belief of religous things, and was never again bothered by thoughts of demons, devils, Hell or any of that stuff. Oh, and I don’t believe in psychics, either. (I am not seeking here to tell you that you should follow my lead; I speak only for myself. If you feel strongly that there are such things, more power to you. Knock yourself out. But I have no such worries.) Remind me to tell you sometime of the night—I was 18 or 19—in San Francisco when I and 3 or 4 friends went out at midnight to a ruined, reputedly haunted house (supposedly once the home of “trunk murderer” Winnie Judd) armed only with a flashlight and several lighters, and in true horror-movie fashion went through that house from top to bottom, finding nothing more frightening than a boatload of cobwebs and some very unsafe floorboards. I, personally, crawled along a roof joist with the moonlight shining through missing shingles, and was not attacked, taken over by an evil being (who knows, maybe my wife will dispute that) or dismembered. After something like that, it’s hard to maintain your belief in scary supernatural stuff.
So now, for years, I watch horror movies—whether overtly religiously based, like The Exorcist—or based on supernatural beings like devils, “The” Devil, or demons—or even “slasher” movies (but only if they’re well done, with some semblance of cleverness or wit (gore for gore’s sake bores the hell out of me [Yes, I can swear religious-based oaths, even though I don’t believe in religion. I’m content to be inconsistent], for fun. If a horror movie is particularly clever or well-done, I can even get a frisson, a little chill up my back.
Which leads me to today’s review: the most recent chapter in the Insidious series. The original two movies, Insidious and Insidious Chapter 2 follow the Lambert family in (I believe) Los Angeles—place is never clarified in any of the three films; this unfortunate family has been visited by supernatural beings for years.
SPOILER ALERT (if you haven’t seen the original two movies, skip these paragraphs): In the first movie, Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) and her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) have three kids: two boys and a baby girl. Odd things begin happening in the house they just move into, and Renai convinces Josh to move again–because the middle boy Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into a coma and doctors are unable to figure out why. Then more “haunted house” stuff happens in the new new house, and the psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) is called in by Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). Elise explains that the house isn’t haunted, Dalton is. Elise—who’s an old friend of Lorraine’s—tells them that Dalton’s spirit is wandering in a dark realm she calls “the further” and an evil spirit is trying to get into his vacated body. In the process of reclaiming Dalton’s spirit, Josh has to voyage into “the further” (may I say here that this is one of the stupidest-ever movie names for a psychic plane I’ve ever heard?) and guide his son home; you see, we find out that Dalton is an “astral voyager” (Elise calls them “travelers”) who inherited the trait from his father; as a child he himself was rescued by Elise and her two sidekicks—the Spectral Sightings guys, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). In the process of bringing back Dalton, one of the “entities” (this is hinted at in the first movie, but confirmed in the second) takes over Josh, and Elise is killed by the woman in Figure 1 in Josh’s body.
In the second movie, we jump around in time a lot. We find out how Lorraine and Elise met (trying to keep this mysterious woman from getting into Josh’s “voyaging” body), and how, after death, she is able to help (this is the very short version) Josh get his body back. (Seems that when a live person’s body is taken over by a dead person, the body starts deteriorating, so there’s a time factor here.) Anyway, to make a very long story short, Elise stays dead, she helps Josh get his body back and all’s more or less right with the world. After watching two of these in a row—thanks to Netflix and Telus On-Demand—I had to take a whole day off before watching the third one again. In my opinion, the first two movies could have—and maybe should have—been combined into one movie. It would have saved a lot of time and viewer frustration. Questions never really got answered: why are all these dead people hanging around these three houses? (Josh and Renai’s first and second house appear in “the further” and there are lots of dead people and at least one demon hanging around); there’s the same sort of thing happening in the original Lambert house in 1986. Who builds these houses in “the further” (and why only these three?) and why don’t they put in some lighting, for crying out loud? Well, at least you can carry an LED lantern when you’re wandering around in “the further.” Why in the first movie was there supposed to be a woman trying to take over Dalton’s body when we keep seeing male demons? These and dozens of other questions arose and never really got answered. Oh, and for the record? I never really cared about Josh (Patrick Wilson) or Renai or Lorraine. (END OF SPOILERS)
NON-SPOILER REVIEW of INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3: This movie’s a prequel to the previous two movies. I hope you’re not confused. The only characters from the first two movies to appear in this one are Elise (Lin Shaye), Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). (To further confuse the issue, Leigh Whannell wrote all three movies and this one is his directorial debut. Producer James Wan—who directed and co-wrote the first two—gets a bit part here too.) Thankfully, we get a protagonist that, for some reason, I actually cared about. Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott, who’s about 20, but who plays a 17- or 18-year-old very convincingly and appealingly) is a young woman who lives with her father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) and younger brother Alex (Tate Berney) in an old apartment building, on the fourth floor. She and her best friend Maggie (Hayley Kiyoko) are about to graduate from high school and she’s missing her mother, who died about a year ago from metastasized breast cancer. She feels her mother is trying to contact her from the “other side” and has attempted to talk to her with no luck. Having had no success on her own, she goes to visit Elise, who was highly recommended by a friend, but Elise no longer does readings; she has had some bad experiences and gave up her profession as a psychic. But she is persuaded—I told you Quinn was appealing—and tries to contact Quinn’s mother Lilith, who doesn’t answer. Something else does, and, Elise tells Quinn she must stop trying to contact her mother or bad things can happen. “When you talk to one of the dead,” she says, “all of them can hear you.”
With graduation looming, Quinn goes to an audition for an acting school in New York; when she asks the air if her mother is there, she sees someone—a man—waving to her. She flunks—she thinks—the audition; her friend Maggie tells her not to worry, there’s still time. As Quinn begins to cross the street, she again sees a man under a streetlight waving to her; as she stops to gawk, she is hit by a car! (At this point, I have to tell you this is the most realistic car/pedestrian accident I’ve seen in movies: when the car hits her and knocks her down, she skids for about fifteen feet with no camera cuts. Great FX!) At the hospital, she goes into V-fib (ventricular fibrillation) and her heart stops. While they are restarting it, she finds herself leaving her body and “voyaging”into “the further,” where she sees someone.
Back home, with both legs in casts, she begins having paranormal experiences, which worsen and worsen… there are a few terrifically shocking scenes, which I can’t describe because, y’know, spoilers. There’s a mysterious “man who can’t breathe” in a breathing mask—that’s not a spoiler, as you see him over and over—and this movie is where Elise connects for the first time with Specs and Tucker. There’s a whole lot less wandering around in “the further”than in the first two movies, thankfully, although this movie seems to have the equivalent of the whole building rather than a house or two built. Those “further” people are busy little beavers, I guess, building houses and apartment buildings as needed. But seriously, folks, this movie is not only more cohesive, but it’s a lot more coherent than the first two, in my opinion. If you like this kind of movie, I think you’ll enjoy Insidious Chapter 3. (And you don’t need to see the first two to enjoy it, either.) There’s also a very nice end-titles animation sequence. There are quite a few “good” horror tropes in this film, and although it’s not the best horror film, it’s certainly not the worst.
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