Insidious: Chapter 2

Uninspired ghost story sequel

Insidious 2

Rating Insidious: Chapter 2Insidious: Chapter 2Insidious: Chapter 2Insidious: Chapter 2

Directed by James Wan. Starring Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Michael Beach, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell, Jocelin Donahue, Angus Sampson, Sienna Farall. Written by James Wan & Leigh Whannell.

A mildly diverting scare show that never reaches the frightening heights of the 2010 original or director James Wan’s The Conjuring (released earlier this year), Insidious: Chapter 2 nevertheless delivers some creepy atmosphere and a few surprising jolts in the friendly confines of a routine J-horror ghost story. 

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If you’ve seen The Ring, The Grudge, or most other Asian (or American) ghost stories over the past decade-plus, you know exactly where this is going: a malevolent spirit breaks through to the real world and requires a Scooby Doo mystery to be solved to go away. The second half of Insidious 2 devolves into a spirit-world detective story that becomes a lot less scary the more the film spells things out for us.

That’s a real letdown considering the ambiguous nature of the original film, which brought us to the world of the undead and left plenty of creepy weirdness unexplained. This included a lot of bizarre imagery (remember that black-and-red-faced demon?) that resulted in some of the film’s most effective moments.

But all that weirdness has been stripped out of Chapter 2: the ghosts are cut from a more conventional old woman/young child/lady-in-white cloth. But while the figures themselves aren’t scary – though a mother character played by Danielle Bisutti is pretty chilly – director Wan is a master of that slow-burn sense of dread, and the film’s walking-in-the-dark sequences are still effective. 

Chapter 2 picks up right where the original left off (beware spoilers for that film in the next few graphs), as the Lambert family changes residences and slowly puts things back together. Something’s not quite right with dad Josh (Patrick Wilson); police are investigating the murder of Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye) at the family’s previous home, and mom Renai (Rose Byrne) isn’t exactly sure her husband isn’t the culprit… 

Enter the usual haunted house goings-on, which include ghostly apparitions, a piano that plays by itself, and a baby walker that bursts into musical chaos at the slightest touch. Josh’s wife, mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), and sons (Ty Simpkins and Andrew Astor) are spooked enough to flee, but it’s not the house that’s haunted. 

Enter paranormal investigators Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who have beefed up roles this time around – and provide a lot of jarring comic relief that contrasts with the rest of the film. With Elise now working from the spirit world, they turn to her old associate Carl (Steve Coulter) while investigating the Lambert case. 

That investigation is where the film starts to go wrong, as the trail leads to a serial killer and his demented mother and the film explains, explains, and explains: the ghosts stop being scary when we’re given a step-by-step guide on how to get rid of them. That said, the film is never boring and delivers enough tension to keep us on our toes, even as it loses its appeal by the end. 

I’m a big fan of the first Insidious, as well as director Wan’s The Conjuring – in an over-populated genre that rarely delivers real scares, these are two of the standout films of recent years. Chapter 2, meanwhile, feels like a by-the-number chiller that has been cobbled together from typical genre elements; the project lacks inspiration (besides making a quick buck) even if there’s still plenty of craft apparent in the execution.

Also opening this week: 

  • Křídla Vánoc (showtimes), a Czech comedy-drama written and directed by Karin Babinská (Pusinky). Screening in Czech. 
  • Naked Harbour (showtimes | IMDb), a Finnish drama starring Sean Pertwee. In Finnish/English/Russian with Czech subtitles.

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