InsidiousChapter2 ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview

Did you see 2010’s “Insidious”? Also from Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, the film was about a family—father Josh (Patrick Wilson, of “Prometheus”), mother Renai (Rose Byrne, of “The Internship”) and oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins, of “Iron Man 3”)—who get caught up in a realm between the living and the dead called “The Further.” It’s a world full of evil spirits and demons that Josh and Dalton can travel to while they sleep; the baddies want Dalton, so Josh has to go back into The Further, where he hasn’t been since childhood, to save his son. But there’s a creepy old lady ghost that used to follow Josh in his youth that seems to grab onto him when he comes out of The Further—why else would he kill ghost hunter Elise (Lin Shaye, of “The Three Stooges”) when he came out? The woman saved his family; he wouldn’t want her dead otherwise.

And so “Insidious: Chapter 2” picks up right after its predecessor: Renai, Josh, and their kids go to his mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey, of “Black Swan”) after Elise’s death and their return from The Further. But something about Josh seems … off. He’s more distant, extremely short with Renai, unwilling to discuss the fact that Renai and Lorraine are experiencing the same kind of supernatural weirdness as before. They’re still seeing ghosts, now of an old woman in a long white gown and a full face of Goth-y makeup. They’re still hearing inexplicable things, like a piano playing on its own. And yet Josh refuses to acknowledge any of it—even though this is the same house where, years before, Elise recognized his own supernatural abilities. So if he’s not back from The Further, who is?

What Wan and Whannell do here is deliver a hybrid prequel/sequel, filling in the backstory from Josh’s childhood, his mother Lorraine’s life, and the motives behind the ghosts haunting the Lambert family. But very little of how this is all explained feels organic; from the beginning, which takes us back to Elise’s first meeting with single mom Lorraine and haunted Josh in 1986, the narrative then jumps around and back and forth, from present to recent past to present to further past and back. It’s all quite convoluted, and far too much happens in conveniently creepy locations—Elise’s basement, full of supernatural paraphernalia; Lorraine’s cavernous home, everywhere bathed in red light; an abandoned hospital where Lorraine used to work and first encountered a ghost; a creepy old house full of antique children’s toys. Any cliché you can think of, the film has it, and the effect wears thin rather quickly. There are only so many times that garish old people jumping out of the darkness can scare you.

It’s not that the acting is bad; Wilson and Byrne are quite committed, and the former really successfully handles a transformation from loving all-American father to possessed murderer. But too many things don’t fit together. The humor from ghost hunters Specs (played by Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson, of “Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”) is jarringly silly. The sidelining of the Lambert children until the very last second means the conclusion feels tacked-on, and a time-travel storyline defies its own logic. And The Further just doesn’t seem that interesting anymore—the terrifying demons from the first film aren’t around, replaced by a generic duo of villains who feel way more like a bad “Law and Order: SVU” episode than a legitimately chilling ghost story.

Things are left open for another sequel, and given how successful the first “Insidious” was, it wouldn’t be surprising if these films became another scary-movie franchise like “Saw.” But if the story already feels exhausted, what’s the point? If you want legitimate scares on this Friday the 13th, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is not it.

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