"Chapter 3" Eloquently Closes "Insidious" Trilogy

If “Insidious: Chapter 3” had nothing going for it but 71 year-old Lin Shaye kicking demon ass, it’d still be worth the attention of horror fans. But with the complement of a supremely likable cast and heaps of effective jump scares, the chiller ably matches up to its underrated predecessors.

With “Insidious” and “Insidious: Chapter 2” director James Wan moving on to the “Fast & Furious” franchise, “Chapter 3” sees Leigh Whannell – Wan’s longtime creative partner – pull triple duty, reprising his role as both screenwriter and nebbishy ghost hunter Specs, all while making his directorial debut. From the grotesque (“Saw”) to the creepy (the series at hand), Whannell is as experienced in the genre as anyone, knowing when viewers are at their most vulnerable and exactly how to exploit them.

Lin Shaye returns as fearless psychic Elisa Rainier, the film functioning as something of an origin story for her. When confronted by a teenage girl looking to communicate with her deceased mother, Elise explains that she’s retired, disinclined to return to the dark place where she’s been hunted by an especially malevolent spirit.

But this isn’t mere exposition. Whannell jumps into the main action immediately, with the aforementioned teenager, Quinn (Stefanie Scott), acting as the film’s co-lead. Contrary to Elise’s advice – that Quinn is unprepared to deal with the darkness that can come with trying to contact a spirit – Quinn goes on to hold a makeshift séance. Something terrible follows her back.

Screen stalwart Dermot Mulroney has considerable fun with his role as Quinn’s well-meaning but deadbeat dad, while Whannell’s aforementioned appearance with Angus Sampson as wannabe ghostbusters is welcome, as always.

But “Insidious: Chapter 3” is a female-dominated film, with Shaye getting a surprisingly personal story arc and Scott giving the most endearing performance the genre has seen from an actual teenager in many moons. She’s every bit as good as her inveterate co-star, keeping us rooting for her even when she falls under the power of The Man Who Can’t Breathe.

Some will be dismayed that demonic possession is once again prevalent, and while it remains the series’ weak link, it gives “Chapter 3” some of its most spine-tingling scares. The grimy spectre in the oxygen mask is an equal opportunity frightener. From giggling teens to self-professed tough guys, no viewer will be left off the hook.

The screenplay spins its wheels with a mostly forgettable second act, but Whannell’s crafty metaphors for depression and grief sustain. That the pic’s midsection – where next to nothing happens – is enough to hold our attention is a testament to the series’ gift for characterization. If we didn’t care about these characters, the scares wouldn’t work and the visuals wouldn’t take hold like they do.

Helped along by some fun horror archetypes – an elderly, misunderstood clairvoyant is a highlight – Shaye and company carry the trilogy to a satisfying endpoint that also works as a beginning. If Whannell has more ghost hunting stories to tell with Elise Rainier and her new-old comrades, the genre will most certainly be better off.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: June 5, 2015
Studio: Gramercy Pictures
Director: Leigh Whannell
Screenwriter: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Dermot Mulroney, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, frightening images, some language and thematic elements)