My introduction to the Insidious films began at the Mesa Drive-In movie theater. Yes, there are still drive-in movie theaters across America and I was fortunate enough to catch one of the defining horror films of this generation while sitting in my Saturn. I was living in Colorado at the time and attended the opening night premiere of Scream 4, which shared the double feature bill with Insidious. While Scream 4 front-loaded its best scene in the opening credits and fizzled fast, Insidious delivered.
James Wan’s 2010 haunted house thriller had me so petrified that I was jumping at all the scary sounds coming out of my car stereo (the days of outdoor drive-in speakers are gone). I locked my doors but kept checking my rear view mirror. The next day, I took my buddy Dave to see it and fiendishly watched him jump out of his seat and yell out expletives in fright.
Horror movies can be an ordeal, an endurance test of fighting back nausea but Insidious, like the best fright films, puts the emphasis on suspense, style and creatively staged scares. I love the Insidious movies, which have little to no on-screen violence and zero gore but succeed by doing what horror movies are supposed to do: scare you until you walk away a limp noodle. It’s unusual for horror movies to be “fun,” while working its audience over time with jack-in-the-box-like jolts, but that’s what Insidious does. I also loved Insidious: Chapter 2, which dropped the original’s ode to Poltergeist and paid homage to Carnival of Souls. It upped the ante for ghoulish imagery, provided a much stronger villain and demonstrated an uncanny affection for the genre.
While Insidious: Chapter 3 isn’t as good as what came before, it’s not bad, either. There’s still creepy atmosphere and genuinely unsettling sequences, but they’re not as strong as the earlier movies. If key collaborators Wan (who only produced this one and puts in a cameo appearance) and Leigh Whannell (the series producer who directed this one and appears in a supporting role) have one more of these up their sleeve, they need to go out with a much bigger bang.
In this prequel, Stefanie Scott plays an aspiring young actress who’s bedridden after a car accident. She’s hearing voices in her vent and thinks her deceased mother is trying to contact her. A burned out psychic (series MVP Lin Shaye) knows better and tries to protect the girl from a supernatural monster.
It’s fun to see Shaye, a 71-year-old character actress, carry the film. Scott leads the central plot line and Dermot Mulroney is the biggest name in the cast but its Shaye’s movie and gives it everything she’s got.
These movies are always at their best when characters enter “the further,” a dimly lit, smoky and under populated version of the afterlife. There’s an anything-can-happen excitement in watching these characters brandish a lantern, fearfully making their way through vast, empty spaces. The silence and Halloween haunted house spookiness of these sequences are punctuated by run-ins with ghosts who are unfriendly but, in an eerie touch, always smiling.
The biggest scare is saved for the very last scene. Unlike the recent, limp Poltergeist remake, which ends with a warm and fuzzy wrap-up better suited for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, the third Insidious leaves you with one final image to keep you from getting a good night’s sleep.