When “Insidious: Chapter 2” (2013) wound down with the seeming resolution of the terrifying haunting problems of the Lambert family brought on by the ability of father Josh and son Dalton to astral-project in their sleep, there was an ominous epilogue that hinted of yet more trouble as a collateral effect of the Lambert case. Naturally, the assumption was that the next chapter in this series would address this.
Well, leave it to the writing-directing team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan to stray from the norm.
Instead of a continuation of the story, “Insidious: Chapter 3” is a prequel, focusing on the personal issues that haunted the gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) in the years before she had to revisit the Lambert case.
The Whannell/Wan collaboration shifts gears here, with Whannell not only writing but directing as well — this being his directorial debut — while Wan serves as producer.
“Chapter 3” takes place a few years before the Lambert case, but it cannot be too far in the past, as laptop computers, Skype and mobile devices are very much a part of the culture in this story.
It begins when teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), on the verge of graduating from high school and setting sights on pursuing an acting career, goes to Elise’s house, seeking the woman’s help. Quinn’s mother has recently died of cancer and Quinn believes her mother is trying to communicate with her from the beyond.
Initially, Elise declines to help, saying she is no longer in the business of breaking through to the other side. But eventually she gives in, and to her horror she discovers it is not Quinn’s mother, but something more sinister at work, and strongly advises Quinn to just move on with her life.
Unfortunately, it is too late. Quinn, her father Sean (Dermot Mulroney) and younger brother Alex (Tate Berney), live in an apartment building that is the archetype structure where eerie spiritual shenanigans are cultivated. The floors creak, every door squeaks, the elevator is vintage slow.
Quinn is injured in an accident, making her predicament even worse, as she has no mobility. As creepy things begin to escalate, Quinn is at least lucky that Sean does not linger long with the skeptical parent stance often seen in these kinds of movies (“You were just having a dream,” “The noises are just the house settling,” etc.), and soon he is paying a visit to Elise. But once again Elise is reluctant to help. She is dealing with her own personal tragedy and a malevolent force that has hooked onto to her from a previous case. She does agree to visit Quinn and decides to conduct a seance that only solidifies her resolve to stop venturing into the spiritual world.
Desperate to find some help, Sean heeds Alex’s suggestion they bring in Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Whannell), two paranormal investigators who have become stars on the Internet.
But the technology they have at hand does not negate the fact they are not gifted like Elise.
Meanwhile, Elise meets with fellow spiritual expert Carl (Steve Coulter), who gives her a pep talk, and Elise realizes that if she is not willing to help people by using her gift, she really has nothing else to offer.
Just like all stories of the supernatural, the scary moments are designed to make the viewer jump, and there are teaser moments when a jolt is expected but does not occur. The only real hook is discovering what is behind the scary happenings. So once Elise resolves to help Quinn and break through to The Further, it is a matter of her finding out what is going on and how to combat it.
There really are no twists in the story, but watching Shaye as Elise is always a pleasure, especially when she shifts into overdrive and puts the smackdown on all these evil entities. Plus, we get to see the origination of the association between Elise and Tucker and Specs.
Whether or not the “Insidious” series will continue remains to be seen. Whannell has said in an interview for Rue Morgue magazine that nothing is in the works for a fourth chapter yet. For sure, however, Whannell and Wan have left the fans of this series with some teasers that will guarantee a captive audience should there be more “Insidious”creepiness.
An old house, a town with secrets and more supernatural chills in “We Are Still Here”
Another offering for horror fans that has recently been released and is available via video on demand is “We Are Still Here,” a movie with the familiar premise of people moving into a house that has a mysterious and deadly past.
Written and directed by Ted Geoghegan, based on a concept by Richard Griffin, “We Are Still Here,” opens with a middle-aged couple, Anne (Barbara Crampton from “Re-Animator” and “You’re Next”) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig) moving into a secluded house in the New England area as they try to regroup upon the death of their college-age son in an auto accident.
Despite setting up a new household, Anne is convinced of the spiritual presence of their son — a notion Paul dismisses.
The house is old and problems exist, including a strangely overheated basement. A few weeks into their residency, the Sacchettis are paid a visit by neighbors Dave and Cat McCabe (Monte Markham and Connie Neer), and soon Dave is telling them about the origination of the home, that it was built to be a mortuary and when it was discovered that the family running the mortuary was violating the trust of the community, they were driven away.
This is not an uplifting story and Dave soon apologizes for revealing it. Meanwhile, Cat seems spooked and submissive, but does manage to slip a note to the Sacchettis, urging them to leave.
Anne, still sensing the presence of her son, invites her friend May Lewis (Lisa Marie) and her drug-dabbling husband Jacob (Larry Fassenden) out to stay a weekend. May has done some seances and Anne hopes she might be able to summon the spirit of their son.
When the Lewises arrive, the two couples decide to go into the small nearby town for dinner and encounter a bar-restaurant full of suspicious people along with an undertone of hostility.
Meanwhile, the Lewis’ son Harry (Michael Patrick Nicholson) and his girlfriend Daniella (Kelsea Dakota) arrive at the house and rather than go into town they decide to wait at the house and engage in some intimate activity, which always riles up mischievous spirits and serial slashers.
By the time the couples return to the house, wondering what is it with the enigmatic townspeople, some bad things have occurred and are about to escalate.
“We Are Still Here” starts slow as Geoghegan establishes an ominous mood with several long shots of the snow-drenched and eerily silent outdoors around the house, complete with creepy looking trees barren of leaves. After a while these scenes, while effective, interrupt the rhythm of the storytelling.
The final 30 minutes or so of the movie really pick up the pace and enable the characters, particularly Anne and Paul, to elevate themselves above the grief stalking their lives. It is a refreshing jump-start to what had been bland characters. Up to that point only Jacob is a standout with his lingering hippy persona.
“We Are Still Here” requires patience but once the action picks up there are some terrifying and surprising moments that push all the right buttons and help make this movie an effective thriller.