Combustible Celluloid
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With: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Andrew Astor, Hank Harris, Jocelin Donahue, Lindsay Seim, Danielle Bisutti, Tyler Griffin, Garrett Ryan, Tom Fitzpatrick, Michael Beach
Written by: Leigh Whannell , based on a story by, James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Directed by: James Wan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of terror and violence, and thematic elements
Running Time: 105
Date: 09/13/2013

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Further' Adventures

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Insidious: Chapter 2 serves as a testing ground for director James Wan. After a gory start with the original Saw (2004) and stops for two low-rent thrillers, Dead Silence and Death Sentence (both 2007), he stepped up for two exceptional horror films, Insidious (2011) and this summer's The Conjuring.

With them, he proved he had a great talent for the rhythms, sounds, and spaces of horror. However, with great talent comes great responsibility, and when offered the sequel to the successful Insidious, he and his longtime co-screenwriter Leigh Whannell had to make a decision.

Either they could turn it down, or -- like Steven Spielberg did with the second Jurassic Park -- they could make more of the same, and make it the best they possibly could. They chose the latter.

The previous Insidious told the story of a boy with a strange gift that put him uncomfortably in touch with the world of the dead. When his spirit disappeared, dad Josh (Patrick Wilson) was forced to enter this creepy, scary world -- known as The Further -- to rescue him.

Without giving too much away of the sequel, let's just say that things weren't quite settled after the last movie. Creepy things begin happening again, necessitating another trip into that nightmarish place. Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey are back again, and Angus Sampson and Whannell return as Tucker and Specs, the comical paranormal investigators.

The plot requires certain characters to investigate creepy houses -- and an abandoned hospital -- as well as checking out strange noises. This is where Wan does his best work. Wan seems to have no end of simple, scary ideas, moving his camera freely through three-dimensional space, and using doorways, walls, and obstacles to heighten suspense.

Composer Joseph Bishara provides a truly eerie, atonal score that adds an otherworldly feel to Wan's shots.

And though the movie takes a few shortcuts with the characters, viewers that remember them from the original Insidious will be able to read extra layers into them. They're still sympathetic.

But there's no denying that this material simply doesn't feel fresh anymore. The Further isn't an unknown factor anymore, nor are any of the hauntings. These ghosts have tried these same tricks before.

So, essentially, the main problem with Insidious: Chapter 2 is that it's a sequel to a better movie. If we could somehow erase that, we could see that it's not bad in itself: it contains some good scares, some touching moments, and a decent amount of bang for your buck.

Sony Pictures has released a gorgeous-looking Blu-ray that highlights director James Wan's talents for horror. Unfortunately, the only extras are a few short featurettes, though screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell does provide a slightly silly one. There are also trailers, plus a DVD copy and a digital copy.

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