The absence of director James Wan ends up not hindering Insidious: Chapter 3 too much, as writer Leigh Wannell proves himself capable at the franchise's helm. Like most of Blumhouse Productions' horror outings, the film was made for a shoestring budget and is basically a sure-fire financial success regardless of its quality. Luckily, though, Leigh Wannell doesn't let that coax him into autopilot, giving the franchise a creepy, well-acted, and ultimately worthy third installment. Returning for Chapter 3 is Joseph Bishara, whose dual role as the film's composer and villain makes him as integral to the franchise's fabric as he is a useful piece of trivia. As with threequels, this is a composer with whom I have a love-hate relationship. Through his scores for Insidious, The Conjuring, and Annabelle, Bishara has proven himself a master of textural suspense, creating truly disturbing soundscapes that complement their respective films well. His reliance on orchestral dissonance (of the strings for Insidious and the brass for The Conjuring) makes his scores unusually unnerving, athematic endeavors. Unfortunately, though, such exercises in brutal ambience work to render the scores' album releases largely unapproachable.
With Insidious: Chapter 3, Bishara continues to corner the market on "effective music you'd never want to listen to." Now, I think there is definite merit to scoring horror films this way. In keeping with the spirit of The Conjuring, for instance, Bishara's score for that film is warped, torturous, and effectual. To Bishara's credit, the music during the film's opening logos made the last person I watched The Conjuring with immediately sit up and say "Nope. Oh god. I don't like this at all." In a way, that kind of insipid, sonic dread is invaluable to a horror film. The problem with Insidious: Chapter 3 is that, save for a few minutes of well-executed dramatic material, it might as well be a re-release of any one of the franchise's prior scores. For nearly forty minutes, the score alternates between dissonant ambience, complete silence, and startling orchestral stingers, most of it indistinguishable from the prior installments' scores. There are unique touches here and there that help distinguish it, like the oddly shimmering electronics of "Questions Left Behind," the muted arpeggios of "Facing Breathing," and the entrancing soundscape of "Insidious Chapter 3," but they remain few and far between. For the most part, the thrashing suspense and quivering strings are exactly what we've heard before, and will likely here again if there is an Insidious: Chapter 4. This is the difficulty with dissonance: it works serviceably well for a single film, but resists development and maturation across a series of films.
The thematic material that Bishara provides for Insidious: Chapter 3, however, does offer something new in the rueful theme of "Visit from Light." With its pulsating electronics and exquisitely melancholic build of the string section, "Visit from Light" reminds us that Bishara is actually quite talented at writing emotional music. In fact, I'd say that the track is amongst Insidious's best, deservedly securing a spot in any suite of the franchise's best music. A handful of other, pared-down orchestrations of this new theme intermittently punctuate the album (as in "Tell of Presence," "Question Left Behind," and "She Was There"), offering the listener choice moments of form in the score's otherwise dissonant meanderings.
With Insidious: Chapter 3, Joseph Bishara revisits the torturous soundscape of well-crafted stingers and ambience that has made him a go-to name in the world of horror scoring. For the film itself, this is good news, because his juxtaposition of silence and thrashing noise is just as startling now as it was in the first Insidious. It will likely never cease to be startling, because (guess what!) that's what unexpected, loud noises generally are... it will just become less and less interesting as time goes on. And that's the main problem with much of Insidious: Chapter 3 as an album, it's got plenty of effective scares, but they're losing their appeal, the quivering, descending string lines of "Void Figure 7 Ch 3" seeming oddly familiar now. Like I said, that's the problem with dissonance: it's difficult to develop and mature in a satisfying way across films. What's more, it's difficult to determine how much to fault the composer for this, as his scores remain effective in context. Unfortunately, that's the sacrifice he makes in taking this approach.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "Facing Breathing," "Visit from Light," "She Was There," "Insidious Chapter 3"
Label: Void Recordings
Availability: 22-track edition