'Insidious: Chapter 3' (PG-13)

t starts with a simple request.

OK, it’s a horror movie. So maybe not so simple.

“I want to talk to somebody who’s not around any more.”

Of course, warning young Quinn (Stefanie Scott) that trying to talk with her mother isn’t a great idea, doesn’t work. Mom died of breast cancer. Quinn is finishing high school, wants to be an actress and needs her mother’s advice, because there are some things electrician dad (Dermot Mulroney) just doesn’t understand.

Psychic Elise Rainer is retired “from all that.” But when Quinn reaches into the spirit world on her own, the little old lady has to give up being a shut-in, roll up her sleeves and leave her trusted dog behind. It’s back to “The Further” for her, to rescue a teen, foil a demon and save the day.

Welcome to Insidious: Chapter 3, in which horror icon Lin Shaye explains the afterlife to us, faces her own fears and graduates from mascot, in many a horror movie, to leading lady. It’s a movie with its fair share of scares. But thanks to the pathos of the story (dead mothers) and the veteran Shaye, it’s that rare horror movie that could also make you cry.

This Insidious prequel takes us back to a time before Elise appeared in the original film, back to show why she got out, then got back into the spirit guide business. She had her reasons.

Actor/writer turned writer-director Leigh Whannell, who gave us Saw and Insidious, doles out his frights sparingly. They’re shadowy figures — a man in a hospital gown, waving from the distance, noises from the vents of an old apartment building, an apparition in the theater where Quinn auditions for an acting conservatory.

There’s the “crazy old cat lady” in their building who seems to know something. But Elise, with her “Book of Seeing,” is the one who has the answers.

Shaye shines, front and center, in this sensitive haunted (apartment) house tale. She ties the thread of these movies together, makes this version of the afterlife make sense (sort of) and lands the one-liners. She gives Elise fear and trepidation, replaced by a defiance born of experience.

Whatever else Whannell, making his directing debut, manages in this third chapter of this soon-to-be-beaten-to-death series, casting Shaye and giving the actress who dates back to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street her due pays off. In a genre known for its callous heartlessness, Shaye reminds us that there’s nothing scarier than grief and regret, nothing more horrific than a child losing her mother, nothing more terrifying than the horrors she’s already seen and knows too well.

Cast: Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Dermot Mulroney.

Writer-director: Leigh Whannell.

A Focus/eOne release. Running time: 97 minutes. Language, violence, frightening images, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

 

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