Less Insidious, More Enjoyable
Here’s what you need to know about Insidious: Chapter 2, the sequel to 2011’s critically appreciated haunted house/demonic possession thriller helmed by Saw-franchise mastermind James Wan: It’s barely scarier than an ’80s-era Disney Sunday night movie, but that’s chiefly what makes it worth watching, at least if you remember being spooked by Mr. Boogedy when you were a kid.
Well, that and the fact that its predecessor’s ending sets up this movie, meaning that if you enjoyed the first, you might as well sit through the next. Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell have extended the astral-projection explanations behind the Poltergeist-ian spooks of the first film to an even greater degree here. Sure, there are plenty of bumps in the night to startle you, but just about everything that’s scary or plot-centric is telegraphed from light-years away. Coupled with the type of wooden performances that are usually the domain of Tyler Perry movies, the almost deliberate lack of surprises in Insidious: Chapter 2 practically goes out of its way to sink a somewhat interesting take on the trope of a creepily serious kid tapping into the beyond, thereby terrifying his mom.
With railroad-like pacing, Insidious Chapter 2 has plenty of eye-rolling moments, but it still kinda works. Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Ty Simpkin reprise their roles as Josh, Renai, and Dalton Lambert respectively, a family afflicted by dead souls living in a realm of the astral plane called The Further. At the end of the original, Josh taps into a childhood talent for astral projection to save his son; the two return, ostensibly triumphant, but Josh inexplicably strangles Elise (Lin Shaye), the medium responsible for guiding them to victory in the first place. As this next chapter opens, the Lamberts have moved into the home of Josh’s mother (Barbara Hershey) to duck the police investigation and the supernatural terror rampant in their old house. It soon becomes clear that Josh is not what he seems, and it’s left to ghost-Elise and her former and current assistants to piece together that the soul in Josh’s body is not the loving, astral-tripping father everyone knows but someone, something far more –– wait for it –– insidious.
What makes the film fun is a tonal shift from crappy 21st-century scare-a-thon to a goofy movie of the week. This is largely due to the story’s turn toward atmospheric, afterlife fantasy and Elise’s dorky helpers (Whannell and Angus Sampson) turning the comic relief up about 1,000 percent. None of their squabbling or nerdy tics is particularly funny, but their schtick –– along with Josh’s wandering through foggy darkness, a little boy dressed as a doll, and heavily made-up, Joan Crawford-y villainess –– give the film some unintentional silliness, which makes it fun to watch even when it’s not very scary. Despite its failings, Insidious: Chapter 2 is curiously watchable, and the third chapter set up in the epilogue probably will be, too.
Starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. Directed by James Wan. Written by Leigh Whannell. Rated PG-13.