Insidious 3 stream of consciousness (with spoilers): Thoughts, questions and comments on Kenny Rogers

It is 10:50pm. Sunday. I am sitting in a darkened theater with four friends (Alexandra, Ryan, Nathan and Seth. Adam couldn’t make it because he had to work in the morning. Like a loser). The venue is about half full. It is my first time watching a horror movie at the movies.

I am afraid.

insidious-3-poster

Personally, I love horror movies. I love the slow unsettling movies like Rosemary’s Baby. I love the slasher/chaser films like Halloween, Scream, Friday the 13th. I love the ones that try to have a plot, like Sixth Sense. And I love the ones that are stupid, that have thin premises with lots of logical inconsistencies but you don’t have time to dwell on them because BOO! something jumps out at you.

I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity.

What I especially love about the Insidious series is that it mixes a feeling of constant dread, tension, chases and jump-and-boo scares into one slick and well-produced package. Insidious is more than just a greatest hits on the best horror movie styles, though. It’s also famous for a different kind of scare: For lack of a better term let’s call it the “wait what am I supposed to be looking at, what is everyone getting so upseeeyaaaawhat is that in the window!” scare. James Wan, who gave this series (and The Conjuring films) its identity, loved to hide the boogeyman in plain sight, very still until he suddenly moved, drawing your eyes to him. Those kinds of scares define this series, and though they appear less in this third installment (now directed by series co-writer Leigh Whannell) than in the previous two, when they do appear they offer the most satisfying frights of the film.

The reason the “what is that in the window” scares (henceforth: window scares) work so well is because they give our terror a third dimension. When something jumps out and yells boo, YOU are afraid. It doesn’t even have to be monster; it could be the main characters kid brother barging in during a game a tag, but just the suddenness of it is enough to give you a jolt (it helps that you go into the movie experience knowing at some point you’re going to get scared). So-called jump-scares can only go so far.

Spielberg learned decades ago, when he made JAWS (a quintessential “horror” film, cinema’s first summer blockbuster, always written in all caps), that jump-scares end up being less effective as they occur. Spielberg saw, when he showed early edits of JAWS to test audiences, that people reacted less strongly to seeing a severed head floating out of a submerged window when the scene before it featured a jump-scare. The test audiences that saw a different cut of the film (without that jump-scare) reacted much more intensely. The jump-scares serve as a release. Our tension is ramped up, we’re nervous, eyes glued to the screen, then BOO! And then suddenly, once the momentary fright is over, we can relax, because we know the movie will reset and slowly ratchet up the tension again for the next scare. But if you save the scare for the end of the film, all the little unsettling scenes build on top of each other creating a stronger reaction when the big scare finally comes.

Window-scares work on a different level; they give you the big frights of a jump but keep the tension building until the movie finally does jump out and yell boo. Unlike jump-scares (where both you and the character are scared at the same time), window scares work more effectively because YOU see the terror but the character does not. You become a helpless spectator, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the character sees the monster lurking in the shadows, or behind the window, or in another room, and in the meantime the yet-unseen monster is creeping and approaching.

Insidious, as a series, does this perfectly.

Insidious 3, as a movie, does not do this enough.

Anyway, I’m here watching this and taking notes as I do. Here are my thoughts and questions as they occurred to me (expanded and elaborated on the next day).

If you want to skip past the comments on the movie, the final word and review score is below:

SPOILERIFIC COMMENTS IN REAL TIME AND ALMOST REAL TIME:

There is something surreal about watching a movie like this in theaters. As I said, this is my first horror movie experience in theaters (I did see Jurassic Park as a kid, but I consider that an action/thriller). My theory about the way people watch things as individuals versus in groups was validated as soon as the opening credits blared.

My theory is that individuals can watch a movie, or a tv show, or a commercial and even if it is the worst thing they’ve ever seen, an individual watching alone will think nothing of it. He may get annoyed, or change the channel, but that’s it. But if you put that same individual in a group and show him the same stupid commercial, he will comment on it, loud enough for all to hear, making sure that everyone knows he thinks the ad was dumb. Why? My theory is that we feel the need to justify our viewing when around other people, despite the fact that they are watching it too. So if a cheesy commercial comes on we will awkwardly try to laugh at it, or mock it just so that no one will think that we actually like it. It’s a social sort of phobia.

In the case of a horror movie, there is the compulsion to let everyone else know that you’re not afraid. So you crack jokes, make observations, yell at characters dumb decisions: Anything to deflect the reality of how unsettled you are feeling. Whenever I watch movies at home with friends—no matter how much I insist on “lights off, no talking”—I will inevitably be the one to crack and start mouthing off.

Watching a scary movie with 100+ strangers made me realize how normal that behavior is.

~

The opening title card, by the way, features the same loud, violin-scratching ear-torture that the series is known for. And the nervous laughter has already begun.

~

I’m going to assume you didn’t click on a review of a “part three” in a series without seeing at least the first two parts. If you haven’t you’re not going to be too out of the loop since this is a prequel. That’s to be expected since the Elise character (the most interesting of the series) was killed off in the first film and yet here she is, granny-cardigan and all.

~

Exposition scenes are clunky and the dialogue is too on the nose. Although Stefanie Scott (who plays main character Quinn Brenner) does a good job throughout the film, the same can’t be said for Dermot Mulroney, who plays the main character’s dad. He hams it up with over the top acting (although the script doesn’t give him much to work with beyond the cliches). At one point he looks to his daughter in a wheel chair and says “the wheel chair is only until the bones are healed.” Well duh. Who needed that line inserted into the movie? Who needed that plot thread tied up?

And then there’s Quinn’s little brother, whom we are introduced to via his big sister barging into his room early in the morning. All I could think was “You should not burst into a teenage boy’s room without knocking and then waiting a minimum of 45 seconds.”

~

Apparently the family lives in a hotel. They tell me it’s an apartment, but I’ve seen Seinfeld: This is no apartment. This is a hotel. This in fact may be the Overlook Hotel. There’s even a creepy room number the main character wheels up to later on.

~

I’m twenty minutes into the movie and so far all I can think is:

INSIDIOUS scares

And just as I’m writing that note down, BOO! Quinn gets hit by a car. We get our first trip into the Further and meet the antagonist of the picture (though he was teased as “creepy waving guy” just before the car accident). He’s effective but not as unsettling as the Drag Queen Bride in Black that the first two films focused on. He works as a jump-scare threat but didn’t disturb me throughout the quiet moments of the film the way the Bride did in parts one and two. Watching those I was thinking about when he/she would make another appearance, but here I was just kind of along for the ride until the mood changed and I knew something was coming.

~

One thing that’s clever is the way the film incapacitates the demon’s target. Putting Quinn in dual leg-casts made her essentially a sitting duck, so the scenes when she’s alone and you sense stuff’s about to go down create an extra layer of dread. Especially effective was the skype conversation Quinn had with her friend Hayley. In the middle of their chat she asks Quinn if a boy is standing next to her, when of course there is no one else in the room. That this moment happened right after reminding us that she can’t even get off the bed to pee without waiting for someone to come get her makes it all the more effective. And then the laptop spazzes out and Quinn looks over (slowly…because everyone turns their heads so slowly in a horror movie) to see the Breathing Man staring at her. He then approaches her and seems to try and demon-rape her before her dad breaks things up.

Wild.

~

Ha ha. So Quinn’s first encounter with Breathing Man left her with two leg casts. Her second encounter ends with her having a neck brace strapped on. All I can think is, by the end of the movie the demon is going to be stealthily approaching a quadriplegic in a full-body cast. If nothing else, this whole movie would have been over half an hour ago if she only had LifeAlert.

~

We’ve come to the scene where Quinn pulls the covers over her eyes, because if you can’t see the Spawn of Satan that is hunting your immortal soul, then it can’t see you! Next thing you know she’s in her wheelchair and Breathing Man is pushing her around like it’s nothing. She barely reacts, he barely reacts, I barely react. This movie is light on actual scares and so heavy on plot it’s like its afraid to be unnerving all the way through. A scene where the main character is literally being wheeled to The Room of Her Doom should generate more of an emotional response.

~

The movie has been on for an hour (out of an hour and a half) and Ryan leans over to me and says “So…is her brother…just dead?” and it occurs to me the little spud hasn’t been seen since the opening of the film. Next thing we know there he is, watching videos on youtube, oblivious to the murder death kill seance that just took place outside his bedroom door.

That’s accurate, I suppose.

Speaking of the seance, every time there’s a close encounter with a demon, I keep thinking “This would be the perfect time to drown out the screams with the Ghostbusters theme and then hit the title card…”

alas.

~

Junior’s contribution the entire movie is to elicit the help of some Bebop and Rocksteady ghost hunting duo that runs a web series. You may know these guys from the first two films, but since this is a prequel they get a proper introduction here. The shorter one is the director/co-writer himself, the big one eats a single cupcake at least three different times in the same scene (a continuity error so obvious I choose to believe it was left in for artistic purposes).

~

Quinn finally gets possessed, which may be a cliche for these sorts of films, but it’s a staple of this particular series and necessary to the way these plots unfold. The sight (and sounds) of her hobbling on her broken legs is probably the most unpleasant moment of the movie. This brings on Elise to reenter the picture and save the day by entering the Further in order to bring Quinn back from the brink. Or not, but we’ll get there.

~

I should point out too, that Elise’s dead husband, whom the demon uses to tempt her into staying in the Further, is either Santa Claus or Kenny Rogers depending on which photograph you’re looking at. When he appears in person he’s the architect dude who runs the Matrix. Your mileage may vary on how funny that is, but personally, it sustained me with a good three minutes of laughter. Of course Elise is not fooled by Breathing Man’s tricks. You’ve got to know when to walk away and know when to run, and she does. With Quinn in tow they flee the presence of the Breathing Man and head back to the land of the living.

As they flee Elise and Breathing Man have a stare down and I swear I could hear the Mortal Kombat guy going “Round One…FIGHT” and just then, spry old Elise takes off like she’s going for a full-on Liu Kang bicycle kick. Instead, nope: Just a shove.

She and Quinn get almost back to reality when suddenly Elise lets go of Quinn and jumps back into her body, leaving the semi-crippled, disoriented and recently possessed girl to finish the race all by her lonesome.

And then Elise is all “Oh I meant to do that…quick everyone grab her hand!”

Thankfully a different lady swoops in to save the day. Quinn’s mom introduces the concept of…angels? Is that what we’re calling her? Either way it’s a new dynamic to the series. And of course Quinn and her mom defeat the demon with…

~

Late in the movie comes both the best window scare and jump scare of the film. Elise, the elder medium who enters The Further in the film’s climax and manages to seemingly dispell the Drag Queen in Black that terrorizes her, returns home thinking she can relax to a job well done. Her dog’s barking says otherwise, and as she peers closer to what Fido is upset with, we see the image of a demon in the window, staring at her. And then, just as we—the audience—shiver from the terror behind the window, we cut back to Elise and then…

BOO!

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Consensus from the posse I traveled with: Alexandra loved it but was scared. Ryan enjoyed it, I enjoyed it but not as much as the previous ones, Nathan enjoyed it, Seth wet himself and wept silently for the duration. All in all, it was a worthwhile experience.

The film itself was not as scary as the first two but, on the other hand, it didn’t try to be. It was more of a thriller with just a few jump scare moments, and a couple (but not enough) well-designed window scares to boot. It was a fine enough movie, but was hampered in parts with some really bad line readings and a few editing oddities.

Ultimately I’d say it was very good for a horror movie, but not great as a film.

See it in theaters.

7/10

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