The first Insidious was a pretty convincing little horror movie, a low-budget spookfest that relied on old-school haunted house scares that created some deeply unnerving moments before it devolved into silliness involving astral projection. The sequel was a classic case of diminishing returns, as it eschewed the moodiness of the original in favor of lame soundtrack crashes.
The third entry in the series finds original creator James Wan (he was busy instructing Dwayne Johnson on the art of flexing his way out of an arm cast in Furious 7) passing the writing and directing reins on to Saw writer Leigh Whannel, who’s making his directorial debut. Though Chapter 2 ended on a cliffhanger, Insidiots—that’s what we’re calling the hardcore fans of this franchise—will have to wait to find out how that all ends, as Chapter 3 rewinds to a few years before the first movie primarily to tell the story of how psychic Elise Rainier (the resilient Lin Shaye) got into the dimension-jumping, demon hunting business in the first place. She’s contacted by young Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), who just lost her mother to cancer and would like the opportunity to say goodbye. But in reaching beyond the grave, she unwittingly unearths a malevolent spirit who wants to eat her soul. At first, Quinn’s father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) thinks she’s just being difficult, but when the beastie starts leaving behind goopy footsteps and cracks in the ceiling, he calls on wannabe ghostbusters Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (director Whannel). When they fail, it’s up to Elise to keep a creepy dude in a breathing mask from pulling Quinn all the way into the dark side of the afterlife.
The third act, which finds Shaye finding her inner badass in the spirit world, has a nice pace to it, but it takes half a lifetime to get there. Part of the sluggishness of Chapter 3 comes from the fact that it chooses to turn its protagonist into an invalid pretty early on (and does so in accidentally hilarious fashion), leaving Quinn in a pair of leg casts that prevent her from running away from evil. But it also drags because we’ve seen all the moves before, making just about every jump—most of which are the equivalent of leaping from behind a doorway and banging some pots really loud—feel pretty perfunctory. And despite being a prequel, Insidious Chapter 3 doesn’t even really do any fan service: The initial meeting between Elise, Tucker, and Specs unfolds in deeply uninteresting fashion, and Elise calling the oft-visited death plane “The Further” is a completely random afterthought.
Insidious Chapter 3 ends on something of a cliffhanger that theoretically puts Elise in mortal danger, but considering we know she makes it to the first movie unscathed, there’s not a whole lot to worry about. In fact, it’s more fun to imagine the next five minutes of that character’s life after the credits roll than it is to power through yet another underwhelming series of exhausted horror movie tropes. Insidious Chapter 3 is the worst kind of sequel: Not terrible, but also cartoonishly unnecessary. C+