‘Insidious’ offers its most terrifying chapter yet

Prequels are tough stories to accomplish properly and are an even tougher feat in the horror genre, which has seen very few prequels. Fortunately, Leigh Whannell has developed a phenomenal prequel in the third entry of the “Insidious” franchise, “Insidious: Chapter 3.”

The story takes place a few years before the events of “Insidious,” and it follows the psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) as she tries to help Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) and her family fight against the demonic entity that is trying to take her body after attempting to reach out to her deceased mother.

Unlike the previous installments, which solely focused on terror and dread, “Chapter 3” focuses more on character development and restarting the franchise’s timeline, and it does so in a smart and terrifying way.

While it doesn’t completely ignore the events of the first two films by referring to Elise’s assistance with a young Josh Lambert and her run-in with the Bride in Black spirit, both from the original “Insidious,” “Chapter 3” does well to reintroduce us to characters like Specs and Tucker and show how they first met Elise.

“Chapter 3” also has a very different tone than the first two movies, carrying a more serious and mournful atmosphere, since it deals with a lot of deaths of those close to the characters. From the beginning, the audience gets the sense that the narrative will have more dramatic depth, and it’s done very well.

The audience comes to sympathize for the characters, as they try to cope with their losses. Elise, having lost her husband, has lost the will to help people with her psychic gift, and the young Quinn and her father Sean still mourning over the loss of her mother from cancer.

The scare factor of “Chapter 3” is the most terrifying of the trilogy, as well as one of the most terrifying in the horror genre. In his directorial debut, Whannell creates some truly creepy and disturbing atmospheres, as well as some truly horrifying jump scares.

Unlike the previous films, which were directed by James Wan and shot by John R. Leonetti, both frequent collaborators, “Chapter 3” doesn’t use the effect of panning shots with quick appearances quite as often. One of the best things about the first two was Wan and Leonetti’s ability to make something disappear as quickly as it appeared on camera.

While Whannell and cinematographer Brian Pearson do utilize that similar effect in “Chapter 3,” it’s definitely a different feel than the first two, but in a positive way. In applying more quick cuts to something appearing out of nowhere, it changes the tone from creepy to truly scary, and it is done very effectively.

In addition, the jump scares themselves are some of the most well-executed scares ever done. Having picked up on a lot of the key successes in horror filmmaking from frequent collaborator Wan, Whannell sets up the jump scares fantastically with a completely silent atmosphere before delivering a loud punch to the audience’s fast-beating hearts.

As “Chapter 3” progresses, the jump scares tend to die out a bit and replace themselves with more creepy and disturbing imagery as the characters race to the climax. Once all is said and done, and the film is finally winding to a close, Whannell throws at the audience one final jump scare that will teach them to never let their guards down again.

The performances in “Chapter 3” also help the audience to truly connect better with the characters. Shaye and Scott deliver heartbreaking and thrilling performances in their roles as Elise and Quinn, helping the audience fear for Quinn’s life and root for Elise to send the demons back to hell.

Even the supporting performances of Angus Sampson and Whannell as Tucker and Specs are funny to watch. The characters, reprising their roles from the first two films, have never been a pair that the audience connects to in a serious way, as they always seem to be messing around, even when in the thick of the terror.

Overall, the newest “Insidious” is one of the scariest, well-made, and well-directed horror films in the last decade, if not the last century. It offers a great balance of drama and terror, and is both a fun and exhilarating film to experience in the theaters.

Suggested tags: Insidious: Chapter 3, arts, review, Leigh Whannell, horror, James Wan, Lin Shaye

Update: Tuesday at 1:59 p.m. – Headline updated.