Whannell: Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)
The third release in the Insidious franchise is more modest, but also more consistent, than the second, largely because it understands that Elise Rainier, the paranormal investigator played by Lin Shaye, was the real star of the original film. Insidious: Chapter 2 also knew it, but was limited by the fact that Elise died at the end of Insidious. In fact, the weird contorted structure of Chapter 2, halfway between a real-time sequel and expansive prequel, felt like a way of accommodating Elise as a fan favourite while still moving the narrative forward. Luckily, Chapter 3, like The Lost Key, is a straight prequel, and a character study of Elise, who is somewhat contrapuntal with the general dourness and drabness of the series as a whole. She has a depth and presence that cuts against the muted anxieties of the other characters, which here blooms into a powerful emotional journey that sees her morph into a badass register in the third act, almost an echo of Ripley in Aliens, as the film gravitates towards horror action. That comic, comforting element carries over to the conclusion, which sees her joining forces with paranormal investigators Specs and Tucker, played by Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson, for what feels like the start of a cosy workplace horror television franchise.
Yet Chapter 3 still manages to be scary, digging deep into one of the most pervasive signatures of the Insidious universe: daylight horror. The classic jump scare of the original film occurred in a brightly illuminated room, and a perennial darkness still lurks around the fringes of the franchise’s houses, even in the middle of the day. Virtually all the light here is cold and harsh, creating a perpetual glare, a sense of rooms being either too bright or too dark – a lack of proper cinematographic modulation that sees the characters continually drawing and undrawing curtains, opening and shutting doors, and lifting and dropping laptop covers, in a futile sense to create a genuinely homely mise-en-scene. Most of this occurs in and around the home of Quinn Brenner, a teenager played by Stefanie Scott, who is Elise’s client here. Yet while Quinn’s story, and her relationship with father Sean, played by Dermont Mulroney, are interesting, the focus is squarely on developing Elise as the franchise’s new protagonist.
This means that when we finally enter the “Further,” the supernatural sphere of the franchise, it largely plays as a battle between Elise and her demons, especially the legacy of her husband’s untimely death. The Further takes on a slightly different incarnation in each film in the series, and here it plays as a skeletal house bathed in darkness and cold light – an intensification, in other words, of the daylight horror that Whannell amps up during the scenes in the real world as well. In one of these, Specs and Tucker explore Quinn’s home with a combination of handheld torch and night goggles, and that same glary alternation between darkness and blinding night is the propulsive force of the Futher too, which is a sparser architecture of light than ever before. The only place we see warm light is in Elise’s house, and especially in her basement, where she keeps all her arcane instruments of paranormal detection. And it’s that same warmth in the midst of horror that makes her such an important counterpoint to the coldness of the franchise, and the best protagonist it’s envisaged to date.
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