I’m a glutton for horror movies and will watch just about anything in the genre, so in a way films like this are my fault. Horror films can be made on pretty low budgets, without expensive actors, and they have a guaranteed audience at home and in the cinema. In recent years the American horror genre has served up an endless procession of largely substandard and deeply formulaic movies which are routinely successful at the box office. For every great scary movie like It Follows or The Babadook it seems like there are half a dozen movies starring Ethan Hawke or Patrick Wilson.

Insidious 3 is a perfect example of a pointless, artless horror movie that somehow still managed to make over $100 million at the box office on a budget one-tenth that size. The Insidious series is the brainchild of James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the original creators of the Saw series. Wan also recently made The Conjuring, a somewhat better and actually scary horror film that made over $300 million on a budget of $20 million; a sequel is coming out this year.

While the first Insidious film was watchable enough, this third film is vacuous and self-referential and feels completely extraneous. It’s a prequel of sorts to the first two films, moving away from the Lambert family and showing the background of the ghost hunter (Lin Shaye) and her team. Shaye is called in to help a young girl who is being tormented by some sort of entity who likes to creep around at night. What sets everything in motion is that the girl’s mother has passed away, and she tries initially to ‘call forth’ her mum’s spirit so she can talk to her. But, of course, she starts to summon sinister entities instead. Cue lots of creepy shots of things lurking in the background, sudden loud noises, limb injuries, etc etc…

All of this has been done a million times before, and literally everything here has been done to death already in Wan and Whannell’s other films. Part of the problem is the deliberate, stubborn shallowness of the story and setting. There is no explaining where any of these things come from; unlike The Conjuring, Insidious 3 avoids dealing with themes of religious horror, relying instead on the audience’s readiness to invoke whatever lazy horror tropes they’re familiar with to make sense of it all. About the only thing the film has going for it is if you look at the girl’s ordeal as a a metaphor for dealing with depression after the death of a parent. But other than that, this is about the most generic horror film I’ve seen in the last decade.

Shaye has received good reviews for her role in this series, and I don’t want to knock her, but the character just comes across like a warm blanket, someone’s fantasy of a nice grandma. And you’d think someone with her experience of interacting with the spirits of the dead wouldn’t start screaming hysterically the first time she, you know, actually encounters one of them in the story. The rest of the cast is very poor and, with such a small number of actors, I particularly dislike the way Wan and Whannell insert themselves into the movie. Wan has a cameo casting an audition and Whannell has a recurring role in the series as–inevitably–a writer. An overweight Angus Sampson also returns, with a silly haircut and a vintage He-Man tshirt. The whole film just has this knowing, smartass feel to it that I really disliked. I hope the series stops here, but considering the amount of money they’re making, there’s a slim chance of that.