CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Of all the horror movies franchises out there in the last few years, this is the one I've been most interested in, since the first Insidious was one of the few films to completely freak me out, to make me leave some lights on in the flat all night so I wouldn't be sleeping in the dark. On the surface it was just another machine for shouting Boo! at you, and I enjoyed it enormously in the cinema, jumping and yelling in all the right places, and brilliantly capturing the delicious dilemma between "can't look" and "must look". But it wormed its way into the back of my mind and stayed with me for several days in the way almost no other horror movie has ever managed. Insidious: Chapter 2 was also pretty effective but less powerful and the lights in my flat stayed off that night.
There wasn't really any room to go any further with the Lamberts' story, so Insidious: Chapter 3 is a prequel set a few years earlier and detailing a completely different haunting. Quinn (Stefanie Scott) misses her mother who died of cancer recently. But when you call out to the dead, all the dead can hear you and a malignant spirit called The Man Who Can't Breathe has attached itself to her, seeking insidiously to draw her into the bleak realm known as The Further. If the two bumbling spookhunters (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell) from the Spectral Sightings website can't help, Quinn's only hope lies with retired medium Elise (Lin Shaye)....
Since we already know those three characters are the ghostbusting team at the heart of the first two Insidious films, we know that nothing is ultimately going to happen to them so there is a slight loss of suspense there. And like the first two films, it loses its power whenever it goes into The Further, as it's much creepier when the demons are poking their way into our world than when we're venturing into theirs, simply because we'd expect to see ghosts and spirits there rather than here. But when it's in the real world, it's as downright frightening as any movie I can think of, both in terms of simple boo-jump moments and the wonderful atmosphere of utter dread throughout. It also benefits enormously from regular composer Joseph Bishara's atonal score of scraping violins and clanging percussion.
I really don't get why these movies, and others from the same stable like Annabelle and The Conjuring, or even Dead Silence, have been dismissed as not scary: I can only assume a sense of horror is like a sense of humour and some people simply don't get the chills in the way others don't think Monty Python or the Marx Brothers are funny. All I can really say is that they work for me. The numerous jumps are timed with the precision of a master comedian with a Swiss watch, but they never feel false or cheap. As a straight haunted house movie, Insidious: Chapter 3 is more effective and less comfortable than last week's Poltergeist remake, and a worthy continuation of (conclusion to?) the series.