Review: Insidious: Chapter 2
PLOT: The Lambert family once again finds itself besieged by malevolent ghosts; this time they're intent on possessing father Josh, who has a connection to "The Further" that extends beyond his last trip into the nightmarish realm.
REVIEW: INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 is like watching an instructional video on how to make a scary ghost movie: "Here is where there should be a loud noise... and here is where a door should ominously creak open... this would be a good time to show a creepy apparition standing in the room unbeknownst to the person who just entered it." And so on. It goes through the motions, moving along a familiar path with little in the way of the fresh sense of jolting fun the first entry had. It isn't a terrible film, but it's certainly a disappointing one, considering how impressive director James Wan has proven himself to be with the first INSIDIOUS and this summer's terrific THE CONJURING.
The most basic issue with INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 is that it's just not very scary, and the weird thing is that it seems to know this, leading it to veer into comedic territory more often than not. I give credit to Wan and writer Leigh Whannell for having the inspired notion to embrace some of their film's sillier aspects unashamedly, but I came to the theater to be creeped out, not to point and laugh.
We pick up not long after the first film ends: Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) has returned from "the Further" - that alternate dimension where he rescued his son's spirit from evil entities - and is noticeably different. Of course, you'd expect anyone who has left their body and combatted murderous demons to be something of a changed man, but don't tell that to his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) or son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), both of whom worry about Josh's new proclivity of talking to no one in particular and just generally not acting like himself. There's also the little question of whether or not Josh killed spirit guide Elise (Lin Shaye) toward the end of his trip to the Further. This family is still kind of screwed.
The Lamberts have moved in with Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) to get away from their old abode, although of course it's not their house that is haunted, it is them! This time they've been targeted by the spirit of a serial killer, whose origin story I won't divulge here but it's safe to say that it's been the origin story of countless fictional (and real) psychos. The council of Elise's assistants Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) have once again been sought out to get to the bottom of this haunting, the revelation of which may lay within Josh's own past.
There are a slight handful of engagingly scary moments - a moment inside Dalton's bedroom is as good as anything Wan has done before - but the technique here is nowhere near as polished as the first film: Wan appears to rush through sequences when his specialty is drawing them out eerily. He has also mastered the art of the jump scare so thoroughly that it's strange he's not able to land too many major shocks here. It may not be fair to compare this film to the last one time and time again, but it's also frankly unavoidable; mostly the sequel comes off as a pale imitation of the first, even though Whannell's screenplay does admittedly go through some tricky motions in order to tie up some loose ends from part one.
What INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 lacks in frights it makes up for (for better or worse) in laughs, both of the intentional and unintentional variety. The latter spring forth predominantly via The Further, that smoky netherworld where the characters go to retrieve their souls and confront the villainous dead. As was the case in the first INSIDIOUS, The Further is a pretty goofy place, more carnival funhouse than mystical limbo; you can practically see the fog machine just off-screen. Also bringing some strange levity is Patrick Wilson, going way over-the-top in a performance that is both admirably unrestrained and hammy beyond the point of no return. His turn here is actually one of the few things that doesn't feel recycled or dulled down from the first INSIDIOUS; I just wish the movie had found additional ways of spicing things up.