If you see just one 2013 horror movie directed by James Wan, make it “The Conjuring”, which was easily the most skillfully made genre movie of the summer. That's not to say his latest, “Insidious: Chapter 2”, isn't worth seeing. On the contrary, it has plenty of scares and some fun performances. Just don't expect an instant classic like Wan's previous effort.
The sequel reunites the director with screenwriter Leigh Whannell and almost all of the original cast members, even those whose characters got killed off in the first movie. Along with familiar faces, we get familiar scenarios; like “Back to the Future Part II”, “Insidious: Chapter 2” offers a playful good time at the movies by delving deeper into the characters and situations introduced in part one.
The main action picks up right where we left off, as Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), are treated as suspects in the murder of Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye), the paranormal investigator who helped bring their eldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), back from a spirit world known as The Further. But first we get a prologue set in 1986 that shows Josh being haunted as a little boy. These first few scenes, which feature a terrifying game of Hot and Cold, establish right away this is a sequel that will do more showing than telling. The first “Insidious” was flawed because it withheld too much, and when it did show something it often lapsed into silliness, like when Josh met the Lipstick-Face Demon in The Further. The filmmakers don't make those mistakes this time around. They reveal just enough, and each revelation is more frightening than the last.
The old woman who haunted young Josh was by far the scariest figure in the first movie. In the sequel, we learn that the old woman is a serial killer known as the Bride in Black. The more we learn about the Bride in Black, the more unsettled we become. The movie made me jump out of my seat whenever this nightmarish figure appeared without warning. The serial killer's backstory leads to the most disturbing scene in the entire series, in which a young boy named Parker (Tyler Griffin) is the victim of shocking violence perpetrated by his mother (Danielle Bisutti). I'll have a hard time forgetting the psychotic look in her eyes.
For low-budget horror fare, the “Insidious” movies are exceptionally star-studded, and the actors make the most of the material. If you remember the ending of the first movie, you know that Josh might be more sinister than he seems. Wilson is clearly having a good time in a performance that requires him to do something along the lines of what Jack Nicholson did in “The Shining”. His smile is the least welcoming one I've seen in quite awhile. But the real scene-stealer is Shaye as Elise Rainer, who's surprisingly prominent despite the fact that she's technically dead. Shaye is so good she'll make you believe in ghosts. Angus Sampson and actor-screenwriter Whannell provide comic relief as Tucker and Specs, Elise's bumbling assistants. A scene where Specs has his hand on Tucker's knee for a little too long made me laugh out loud.
“Insidious: Chapter 2” lacks the period details and powerful family story that made “The Conjuring” so great, but Wan has once again delivered the goods. My only complaint is that the cliffhanger ending was completely unconnected to everything that happened before, but I suppose it gives the filmmakers a way to continue this series with some new faces.
“Insidious: Chapter 2” is now playing in area theaters.
Ghostbusters now playing at Augusta Theatre
As far as comedic paranormal investigators are concerned, Tucker and Specs have got nothing on the guys in “Ghostbusters”. Ivan Reitman's 1984 comedy classic is playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theater, 523 State Street. The FX work doesn't quite hold up to today's standards, but the ghosts – notably Slimer, a green meanie who's always pouring food down his gullet, as well as the towering Stay Puft Marshmallow Man – remain iconic. Bill Murray sets the comic gold standard for sarcasm in the face of danger. Sigourney Weaver has never been sexier, and, as her nerdy neighbor, Rick Moranis reminds us of what an invaluable contribution he made to '80s comedies. The PG-rated movie plays at 7:30pm on Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. Admission is $6 per person and includes a bottomless box of popcorn. I'm sure Slimer would approve.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He lives in Wichita.