Tepid ghost story Insidious: Chapter 3 tries and fails to emphasize character-driven drama over cheap, jump-scare-intensive thrills. Writer-director Leigh Whannell takes more time to focus on his characters and their feelings in this chapter, a prequel that follows the exorcism of demonically possessed, but typically mousy, teenager Quinn (Stefanie Scott). Sadly, Whannell (screenwriter of Saw and both prior Insidious films) barrels through any scene that requires expository dialogue like he's a truant student racing through a test he never studied for. Insidious: Chapter 3 is consequently more ambitious than either of its predecessors, but just as underdone and unmemorable.
None of the protagonists have strong ties to the equally forgettable ghosts that haunt them. In one scene, reluctant psychic/exorcist Elise (a sadly underutilized Lin Shaye) insists that Quinn was tricked into thinking "The Man Who Can't Breathe" (Michael Reid MacKay), a respirator-clad ghoul, is actually Lillith (Ele Keats), Quinn's mother. But nothing much comes of this, other than Quinn inquiring, "Mom?" right before she's attacked by her pulmonarily challenged tormentor.
Elise may absent-mindedly fondle her dead husband's sweater vest, but Shaye's scenes are so rushed that her character doesn't seem to have any emotional connection with her husband. Whannell's imagination is equally stunted during the repetitive, idiotic fright scenes. Sickly-looking ghosts, including one that suggests Cesar Romero's Joker in mourning-shawl drag, relentlessly launch themselves at Quinn from air vents, spiderweb-thin cracks in the ceiling, and other bizarre hiding places. But while MacKay's specter leaves freakishly well-articulated bloody footprints behind wherever he goes, nobody with a pulse leaves a trace in Insidious: Chapter 3.