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'Insidious: Chapter 3' is good for a handful of scares but little else
Stefanie Scott stars as teenager Quinn Brenner and Dermot Mulroney stars as Quinn's dad, Sean Brenner, in Gramercy Pictures Insidious: Chapter 3. - photo by Josh Terry
Insidious: Chapter 3 is the prequel to a pair of films about the supernatural torment of a troubled family. Its good for a handful of genuine scares, but a late film tone change and some general clunkiness keep it in mediocre territory.

Rather than expand the tale of Chapter 1 and 2's much-maligned Lambert family, Insidious: Chapter 3 turns back the clock a few years to focus on Elise (Lin Shaye), the psychic who kept bailing them out.

But Insidious: Chapter 3 isnt really an origin story. We meet Elise at the tail end of a distinguished psychic career as shes suffering the effects of numerous supernatural bouts and the emotional fallout from her husbands suicide. When she is approached by a teenage girl named Quinn (Stefanie Scott), Elise is hesitant to get back in the saddle.

Its no spoiler to say that eventually Elise will come around, but before we get there, we have to spend some time exploring Quinns predicament.

Quinn lives with her father, Sean (Dermot Mulroney), and her little brother, Alex (Tate Berney), on the fourth floor of a five-story apartment building. Quinns mother died, and the teen is feeling her loss as she applies for a theater school on the East Coast.

Yearning for her mothers influence, Quinn tries to contact her, but her amateur psychic efforts wind up inviting an evil spirit instead. The spirit which appears in the form of a shadowy old man wearing a breathing mask torments her constantly and seems to be coming from the apartment upstairs.

Director Leigh Whannell who wrote the screenplays for the first two films spends about half the film letting the audience twist on the rope while we watch the man who cant breathe terrorize Quinn. Theres a fine line between being scared and being antagonized, and Whannell wanders well into the second area before finally allowing Chapter 3s plot to grind forward.

Unfortunately, thats also about where Insidious: Chapter 3 falls apart, taking a decidedly dark tone and injecting it with sudden bits of humor that feel out of place. By the time the third act kicks into full supernatural resolution mode, Chapter 3 feels painfully uneven and pedestrian.

There are a handful of aha moments sprinkled in for fans of the series. We get to see Elise make the acquaintance of her future ghost-hunter sidekicks, and we learn more about what makes her character the confident leader she was when she first encountered the Lamberts back in 2010s first installment. But an element of style is missing from Whannells effort that gave director James Wans films a bit more personality.

It doesnt help that the acting and writing is often clunky, making it that much harder to suspend disbelief in a genre that insists on doing just that. The best thing Whannell does is put his heroine in a pair of leg casts early in the film. The added degree of helplessness think Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark projects a genuine level of distress on the audience.

Its not enough to make Insidious: Chapter 3 a good film, but it helps.

Like its predecessors, Chapter 3 is a sworn believer in the jump scare: Better to punctuate a sudden visual with a jarring sound effect than to let the horror really get under your skin. If thats all youre looking for, then Insidious: Chapter 3 will deliver. But you probably wont remember much by the time Chapter 4 rolls around.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is rated PG-13 for frightening visuals, violence and profanity, including a single use of the F-word.
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