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Film Review: Third 'Insidious' revisits familiar ground

Film Review: Third 'Insidious' revisits familiar ground
Dermot Mulroney stars as Quinn's dad, Sean Brenner in "Insidious: Chapter 3," written and directed by series co-creator Leigh Whannell. (Matt Kennedy / Gramercy Pictures)

Oren Peli launched his career by writing, directing and producing the very low-budget "Paranormal Activity," which became a phenomenon — grossing more than a $100 million on a shooting budget of $15,000. James Wan and Leigh Whannell created the "Saw" franchise, which had a higher budget and a lower gross, but still did well enough to count as another phenomenon. (And it spawned at least seven sequels — I think.) In 2010, these three got together and spawned "Insidious" and its sequels.Say hello to "Insidious: Chapter 3"!

That mix of creative DNA has produced a film that's pretty much what you'd expect: stock-shock effects and a basic recycling of its predecessors' vices and virtues.

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More or less happily the makers have also recycled many from the other films' casts. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are no longer on board as the Lamberts, which makes sense, since "Insidious Chapter 3" is presented as a prequel that, among other things, explains how Elise the psychic (Lin Shaye) hooked up with her teammates, Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson).

In place of the Lamberts, we have the Brenners, an even more dysfunctional family. Mom has died, leaving Pop (Dermot Mulroney) to raise Quinn (Stefanie Scott) and Alex (Tate Berney). Quinn is a high school senior with ambitions to be in the theater. (We see her audition. "Don't give up your day job, sweetheart.")

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Quinn has also been desperately trying to contact Mom in the afterlife, but she must have dialed the wrong area code or something, because it's not Mom who answers but rather an Angry (and Very Icky) Demon. Uh oh.

After a car accident — which appears to have orchestrated by the A. (and V.I.) D. — Quinn, with casts on both legs, is effectively trapped in her bed. She doesn't really have any way to run when the A. (and V.I.) D. starts stalking her.

It may not make a big difference to most viewers, but the film is inconsistent in the reaction of others to Quinn's various hallucinations and/or torments. Sometimes no one else can hear or see the stuff she sees. Other times Dad and Elise and her ghost-busting colleagues are shaking with the noise and being terrorized along with her. Unlike the protagonists in "Insidious" one and two, this less affluent family lives in an apartment building — an apartment building whose other tenants must all be deaf and blind. (The same goes for little brother Alex.)

The dialogue has stilted moments. You have to give points to Shaye for keeping a straight face when ominously intoning, “I've fought many like you in my time, demon!”

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But the main problem here is the tired nature of the whole enterprise. Despite the filmmakers' proud claims that this isn't just a retread, this is in fact just a retread, and the treads start falling apart pretty quickly. The same can be said of the shock moments: As in the first two films — and a few hundred others — the movie tries to put you at ease and then whomps you with a loud noise and a jarring cut, often of supernatural baddies with terrible skin.

Some of these shocks work, but in a completely mechanical way. You could write an app to assemble similar sequences with no human intervention.

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ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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