Insidious: Chapter 2 isn’t as strong as the original film, but when news broke that Leigh Whannell was making his directorial debut with the next Insidious film, I really thought we were going to get something special. James Wan was long gone, but we were getting the guy who penned the first two films. If anyone knew how to dig deep and make the most of the Insidious mythology, it had to be him, right? Perhaps, but serving as writer and director might have been too much for his first go at the helm.
At the start, the central character of Insidious: Chapter 3 is Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a high school student who dreams of studying acting in New York. Trouble is, she’s having a tough time moving on after the passing of her mother, so she goes to see Elise (Lin Shaye) hoping that she can help her make contact. However, Elise urges Quinn not to try to reach out to her mother anymore because “if you call out to one of the dead, all of them can hear you.” Sure enough, Quinn doesn’t listen and winds up getting way too close to a sinister entity known as The Man Who Can’t Breathe.
Scott’s got a strong on-screen presence and I’m eager to see what she does next, but Quinn isn’t half as appealing as the Lambert family. It’s hard not to feel for her given her current situation, but she’s really nothing more than a wannabe actress who lost her mother. There’s some costume and production design that’s clearly meant to show off the things that she’s into, but those details and Scott’s natural charisma can’t give the character personality all on their own.
But at least Quinn is likable. Dermot Mulroney is such a painfully hollow and cliche big screen dad, you’ll wish that The Man Who Can’t Breathe would take him instead. Sure, his wife just passed away and maybe he doesn’t know how to connect to Quinn on a deeper level, but that doesn’t give him the right to say things like, “This is my whoop-ass face,” and call Quinn selfish because he doesn’t feel like doing certain chores himself. Things are probably very hard for him, but the way Mulroney plays it, Sean Brenner comes across as a laughable cry baby who isn’t even capable of getting his kids ready for school, let alone helping his daughter fight off a demon.
Unfortunately for Quinn, initially, Elise can’t do much for her either. The fire-face demon certainly gave her a few good scares, but for the most part, Elise remained calm, composed and powerful throughout the first two Insidious movies. However, that’s not the case here. The reason Elise offers to help Quinn in the first place is because she understands how she’s feeling. Elise just lost her husband. It’s an interesting predicament and could have paved the way towards Elise regaining her confidence and feeling inspired to move on and help folks like the Lamberts, but instead, Whannell unnecessarily complicates her husband’s death and also gives Elise another issue to deal with – she stopped contacting spirits because when she does, the Bride in Black is waiting in The Further ready to kill her. One issue winds up taking away from the other, which is especially detrimental when it comes to connecting some of the events of Insidious: Chapter 2 to what happens in this film.
So now there’s no victims to root for, a weak use of the mythology and, on top of that, it’s not particularly scary either. Yes, Insidious featured a slew of jump scares, but those jump scares were always well woven into the scenes and the escalating situation between the Lamberts and what was haunting Dalton. Here, it comes across as though Whannell and Co. thought, ‘Well, we haven’t had a good jolt in a while. Let’s have something pop up now.’ However, when they take the time to tailor scares to characters, locations and situations, they work quite well. For example, there’s a gag with a bell that’s pretty clever and Whannell really works the fact that Quinn is completely helpless after breaking both of her legs in a car accident. The idea of being haunted by a vicious demon is creepy enough. Imagine if it was coming after you and you were completely immobile. That right there is good stuff.
Whannell definitely shows promise, and I’m still interested in seeing him grow as a director, but he wasn’t ready to take on an Insidious movie solo. Insidious: Chapter 2 couldn’t compare to the original film either, but at least that installment had style, energy and respected the rules of The Further. Insidious: Chapter 3 is stylistically unremarkable, boring and doesn’t add very many satisfying layers to the characters or mythology.