There's a case to be made for the B-movie smarts of James Wan and Leigh Whannell as one of the most consistent success stories of recent years in the often undervalued horror genre. But it all comes crashing down with the third instalment in the haunted-house franchise the duo started five years ago. Mr. Wan having left for the big leagues to anonymously steer the Fast and Furious franchise to its hyper-kinetic jump-the-shark point (though retaining here a producer's credit), Mr. Whannell, making his first film as a director with this Chapter 3, makes a mess of this half-hearted "prequel" that gives a sort of "origin story" to the involvement of psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) in episodes 1 and 2.

     Following what happens when Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), a distraught, moody high-schooler, attempts to contact her deceased mother and summons instead a whole other breed of ghosts, Chapter 3 is set before the events of the previous films and focuses as well on Elise's rationale for using once more the paranormal powers she had given up on using after one too many close calls with the beyond. There's an obvious earnestness to its tale of grieving people asking why their loved ones have gone, but it's the sort of earnestness that needs to be held in check to refrain from mawkishness, and the debuting director fails that particular test.

     At its heart, the series has always been an uncomplicated, derivative take on the demonic-possession and haunted-house movies, with a strong Poltergeist influence, but it's clear that, here, Mr. Whannell is unable to balance his script's disparate layers into a cohesive whole. Chapter 3 veers in tone from the overly saccharine to the knowingly sarcastic (the introduction late in the game of the "ghost hunters" played by Angus Sampson and Mr. Whannell is played for far more laughs than it should). It brings nothing new to the series' intriguing premise of a netherworld of tormented souls reaching for a connection to reality, and often looks like a succession of predictable fairground dark-ride scares you can see coming from a mile off. It turns out to be a predictable, disposable would-be thrill ride that has none of the no-nonsense efficiency of the original.

USA, 2015
97 minutes
Cast Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye
Director and screenwriter Mr. Whannell; cinematographer Brian Pearson (widescreen); composer Joseph Bishara; designer Jennifer Spence; costumes Ariyela Wald-Cohain; editor Tim Alverson; producers Jason Blum, Oren Peli and James Wan; production companies Entertainment One Films, Blumhouse Productions and Oren Peli Productions
Screened August 2nd 2015, Lisbon


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