Insidious 3 (2015)
Written and directed by Leigh Whannell
Starring Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell
|Oh man, it's upside-down! I hope someone got fired for this mix up!|
Somehow I’ve managed to watch all the INSIDIOUS movies so far without really wanting to or caring about them at all. It’s not that I hate them or anything, it’s just that other than the bold title font, they don’t really do a lot for me. Part I and II have some interesting aspects but aren’t consistently effective. Part III changes things up by being consistently effective but not especially interesting. Generally I’d consider that a trade down, but in this case it kinda works, mostly thanks to the reliable charm of the returning Lin Shaye (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but most memorable to me for her nightmarish role in KINGPIN). The third sequel in a franchise which only occasionally rises to the level of “pretty good” is low-stakes enough that I can feel content to enjoy something which at least mostly works.
Plus, it’s a prequel. Which, spoiler, explains why Lin Shaye is back again, despite dying an impressive two sequels ago. It’s starting to get a little hard to find reasons to keep bringing her back at this point. It’s like if, spoiler, they kept finding ways to stick James Caan back into GODFATHER II & III. But I guess that’s OK, because she gives the whole enterprise some reason to exists which it otherwise distinctly lacks. It’s about as unexceptional as medium budget PG-13 studio horror movies come, and lacks even the wobbly ambition of CHAPTER II’s BACK-TO-THE-FUTURE-2 time-hopping. But as these things go, it’s about as good as the first two. Which isn’t saying a whole lot, but it’s something.
The plot, such as it is, is that this whiny millennial Quinn (Stephanie Scott, JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS) thinks her dead mom is trying to get in contact with her. She goes to retired psychic Elise (Shaye) for help, but Elise advises her that meddling in “the Further” can only result in demons, etc. Which turns out to be pretty sound advice, because before long she’s being possessed by the ghost of a gas-huffing old man who looks suspiciously like a less charismatic Dr. Satan from HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. The exact same PG-13 possession hijinks from exactly 1,765,327 similar movies play out, and eventually they beat the demon with love or something. And hey look, that’s Dylan McDermott Dermot Mulroney (YOUNG GUNS) over there, looking concerned!
This is all about as standard-issue as you can get, and the spook scenes are getting so predictable that they’re hardly even cliché by this point, they’re almost placeholders, like they meant to go back and add the actual details later and then somehow forget and released the movie with “note to self: think of something cool for this scene” written at the bottom. Whannell proves to be a director virtually indistinguishable from generally competent predecessor James Wan (who cameos as “Acting School Audition Judge,” haha), but the whole INSIDIOUS series has really only ever had one move, which is a long quiet pause and then suddenly you see a ghost accompanied by a loud musical sting. It still had a little gas left in it when the original premiered, but since then whatever little bit of shock this trick once held has been thoroughly mined to its core. Besides, the crusty old demon here is a total cold fish without any of the personality of Darth Maul’s cousin from the original, and the victim seem to almost be an intentional parody of self-absorbed high school obnoxiousness, not necessarily to the movie’s benefit. So, in summary: basic competence in providing shamelessly rehashed scares with uninteresting villains and unlikable victims. Remind me again why I liked this one?
Oh yes, it’s because INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 is only about that stuff to the extent it contractually has to be in order to be an INSIDIOUS sequel. Really, this is an origin story about how Elise got her groove back, and how she hooked up with her sidekicks Tucker (Angus Sampson, “Organic Mechanic” in MAX MAD: FURY ROAD) and Ira Glass (Leigh Whannell, SAW and SAW 2). Admittedly, that story doesn’t turn out to be exactly riveting either, but Shaye is just so loveable as the ghost-hunting psychic that you forgive a lot. This is really her movie. Oh sure, it has to pretend to be about some stupid white chick getting possessed, but Elise is the one who has the actual conflict, and the movie cleverly posits its whole McGuffin about the possession as an opportunity for this unassuming 70-year-old midwestern lady to get her mojo back and start kicking ass. She gets all the good drama and almost all the real pathos, too; there’s a nicely subtle tragic note to her role as a ghost whisperer pining for her recently dead husband, who knows that she could get in touch with him but doesn’t dare try it. Even more than she did in her first two appearances, Shaye gives Elise a muted sadness balanced against her natural instincts for wry comedy, and gives the role an unshowy power that carries the whole enterprise along behind it.
The INSIDIOUS series’s secret weapon has always been a wry, goofy sense of humor, and it's at its best when it indulges this aspect, because it's too silly to get away with being grim all the time. After three movies, these fuckin’ rules about the afterlife make increasingly no sense at all, with people switching bodies and wrestling with their doppelgangers and all kinds of convoluted nonsense. But Shaye, Whannell, and Sampson manage to keep things light and agreeable without becoming outright jokey, and the entirely reasonably 97 minutes just fly by once they definitively take over the plot. It would be ridiculous for me to recommend you see something so lazily by-the-numbers when there are so many terrific films being made every year that you never get around to; this is the very definition of skippable, autopilot corporate franchise farming. But it’s not utterly without charm, and, sometimes, that’s enough.
But seriously, if we really must have a part IV, let’s have a little more hustle here. Shaye’s getting a little old to be doing all the heavy lifting by herself.
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2015 CHECKLIST!
Play it Again, Samhain
|Elise and Quinn talk about Quinn's mom.|