The third installment of the Insidious franchise heralds the directorial debut of screenwriter Leigh Whannell, the man responsible for penning all of the terror-inducing films in the series thus far. Horror luminary James Wan, who directed the first two movies, passes the torch to his creative partner here, and the result is a surprisingly satisfactory prequel, full of jump scares and chilling visuals. The formula might be tried-and-true, but Insidious: Chapter 3 exceeds expectations and leaves the door open for another Whannell-lead entry.
The movie kicks off a few years prior to the haunting of the Lambert family (the basis of the original and Chapter 2) and introduces well-read teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), who's searching for a way to contact her recently deceased mother. Quinn pays a visit to the gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye, reprising her role for the third time) in order to talk to her mom's ghost. This earlier version of Elise lives as a recluse, mourning the loss of her husband Jack and frightened of her astonishing ability to speak to the dead. Even worse, she's haunted by a malicious spirit (fans of the franchise will quickly identify it as the Bride in Black) that's threatening her life. Elise refuses to contact Quinn's mother and instead advises her to cease her efforts, intimating that she might inadvertently allow a malevolent entity to take hold of her soul.
But Quinn is naïve and still grief-stricken over the loss of her mom, and keeps trying to speak to her. Soon enough, an appearance by a sinister spirit leads to a brutal accident, leaving Quinn bedridden with two broken legs. Her life then devolves into a series of horrifying encounters with a ghost bent on dragging her down into "the Further," leaving her overworked father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) perplexed and desperate for answers. Sean pleads with Elise to save his daughter, and she reluctantly accepts -- which leads to the film's terrifying third act.
Chapter 3 sorely misses the onscreen presence of previous stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, and Scott and Shaye are forced to carry the brunt of the narrative heavy lifting as a result. Thankfully, both are capable of doing so, despite some campy and frankly cringe-worthy one-liners from Shaye near the finale. Mulroney is forgettable as the strong father figure, as is the rarely seen little brother of the family (played by Tate Berney). Ultimately, the story doesn't really tap into the family dynamic in any meaningful way.
Prequels are often disastrous misfires, but Insidious: Chapter 3 wades into these waters carefully and avoids trying to tie the entire series together with unnecessary revelations (although there are plenty of winks to the prior installments that fans will appreciate). In addition, there are some truly frightening scenes in this film, with jump scares being used once again for most of the big moments -- the only thing this entry lacks is the slow-building sense of terror that James Wan was able to so deftly create. It might be more of the same shocks we're all used to at this point, but Whannell and company still manage to provide summer moviegoers with an effective scarefest.