Film Review: Insidious: Chapter 2

Horror buffs looking for an old-fashioned scare will find one or two here, but filmmakers Leigh Whannell and James Wan are spreading their brand thin, given that 'Insidious: Chapter 2' will be competing with their own R-rated 'The Conjuring.'

Picking up shortly after the end of Insidious, in which the Lambert family—Father Josh (Patrick Wilson), a high-school teacher; stay-at-home mother Renai (Rose Byrne), young sons Dalton and Foster (Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor) and baby Kali (Brynn Bowie and Madison Bowie)—was tormented by a malevolent entity that seemed fixated on ten-year old Dalton, Insidious: Chapter 2 reveals that despite all the Sturm und Drang they're still in harm's way.

On the plus side, the Lamberts no longer need convincing that they're neither imagining things nor being victimized by pranksters; they even know the identity of the evil in their home: Mother Parker (Danielle Bisutti), a horrible woman in life and a vicious ghost in death. The minus is that they haven't had time to get over their first faceoff with darkness—they've barely had time to catch their breath, especially Josh, who walked into, if not Hell itself, then something very like it (dubbed "The Further") to bring back Dalton. What they don't realize is that something else came back as well, and it's chosen another family member to help it drag them all to hell, or whatever it is it wants to do.

To say more would be to spoil pretty much the only surprise Insidious: Chapter 2 has to offer, even if it's not hugely surprising. To their credit, Wan and Whannell resisted the temptation to ramp up the mayhem: like Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2 is about suspense, not what a non-horror fan of my acquaintance calls "the giblets." But unlike its predecessor, it's more than a little dull and verges on incoherence, which is largely the fault of its shifting time frame, necessitated by the decision to focus much of its running time on revealing the backstory of Mother Parker.

There are a handful of nicely executed scenes, child actors Ty Simpkins and Andrew Astor are unusually unaffected, and familiar character actor Steve Coulter, fresh off his turn as a priest in The Conjuring, gives an admirably steady performance as a paranormal expect who tries to help the Lamberts. Unfortunately, bumbling ghost hunters Specs and Tucker, played by Whannell and Angus Sampson, are back, less funny than ever and real atmosphere killers, something Insidious: Chapter 2 doesn't need.