Insidious franchise still delivers the creeps

Insidious franchise still delivers the creeps

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Title: Insidious: Chapter 3
Rating: F3
Short review: A sometimes awkward script and lesser villain overcome by solid performances and some good chills.

The horror franchise.

It has been a staple of cinema going back to the Universal Monsters years, often following the logic that, if produced on a modest budget for medium to big returns, it's an easy well to revisit every year or so as long as the audience keeps turning out.

In most cases, the horror franchise is a device of diminishing value for, the higher the film count, the worse the sequels tend to be. The Universal Monsters ended up becoming gag fuel for Abbott and Costello, and most anyone who's managed to sit through Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan or Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare can tell you — the dark magic that propelled early entries isn't just gone, it's been gone for a while now, leaving misguided projects that seem to have been motivated only by greed, apathy and cynicism. Sure, you'll come across an Exorcist III every now and then, but such excellent late franchise entries tend to be exceptions that prove the rule.

With such being the typical truth, Insidious: Chapter 3 proves a welcome addition to its franchise. Make no mistake, in a comparative sense, it's a step down as far as the previous two films are concerned, but, overall, it's still a good entry that has elements fans of the series will find worth experiencing.

Series screenwriter Leigh Whannell who, along with previous entries director James Wan, launched the Saw franchise in 2004, steps in for his friend to helm this latest outing.

Rather than crafting a follow up to the storyline of the previous two films, Whannell delivers a prequel delving into the origins of the series' heroic medium/paranormal researcher Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), a character that started as a contemporary analogue of Zelda Rubenstein's character in the original Poltergeist in the first film and grew from there to become a sort of spiritual warrior operating from "the other side."

The trailers would have you believe the film is more centered around a situation in which a supernatural entity threatens a teenage girl named Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott). This is natural given that the bulk of these sorts of films are marketed toward a very young audience. While this is, of course, the central situation around which everything revolves, the real viewer interest winds up being absorbed by the character of Ranier, whom we watch evolve from a terrified former medium with a tragic past into a determined supernatural heroine determined to help the family in crisis despite an ever present threat to her own life residing in the realm of the dead.

Make no mistake, Shaye is the real anchor here, and, as far as her performance is concerned, she delivers the goods.

Scott and Dermot Mulroney, who plays the teen girl's overwhelmed and overwrought father, are certainly no slouches either, and that's a good thing given that Whannell's screenplay occasionally delivers lines that are, honestly, pretty cringeworthy. It's hard to take lines like, "I have defeated your kind before, demon!" all that seriously in a film that isn't set in some Hammer-esque Victorian universe, but the viewer is willing to sit through the occasionally awkward bit of dialogue largely because of the good will gained through Shaye and crew's good performances onscreen.

The only weak spot in this area is the use of the two comic relief numbskull would-be Ghost Hunters guys (one of which is Whannell himself) who come in too late, don't have enough to do, have no real backstory at all and aren't written with enough depth to give much of a crap about. It's more than likely Whannell thought they should be included since they've been important to the series from the beginning, but he couldn't find any particularly novel way to make them shine this time. It's an unfortunate element, but it is what it is.

Effects work is as good as you'd expect for this sort of film, and the central villainous spirit — a filthy or burned man with a bald head and a medical breathing mask over his nose and mouth — is certainly a disturbing visual presence, but doesn't pack the same shock value as the antagonists in the previous two films and, honestly, is too reminiscent of Doctor Satan from Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses for his own good.

Whannell bucks the "young people only" trend in film — horror film in particular — pretty well with this latest entry in the Insidious franchise and, while it isn't perfect, it's still got enough creepy goods to keep the train rolling strong toward a fourth entry.