More silly than its sinister predecessor, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is entertaining for the contortions the script makes to incorporate both a brief prequel and highlights from the first film into a new 105-minute package.
This is a Mobius strip of a movie, looping in on itself with ghosts from “The Further” and parallel existences interwoven into the lives of the lost Lamberts of sunny Somewhere, Calif.
Those “Saw” / “Insidious” guys James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell (co-writer, co-star) throw their pretty good cast — Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey — into a follow-up to the “Poltergeist”-ish tale of the gutsy, long-haunted dad, Josh (Wilson), who goes “to the other side” to fetch his kidnapped boy (Ty Simpkins) from the demonic spirit that snatched him. And if the result isn’t nearly as hair-raising as the first film, at least they’ve set the table for more sequels, spinoffs — a sort of “Lone Gunmen” TV series, even.
A 10-minute prologue tells us of how younger Josh was first visited by a spirit, and first “treated” by ghost buster Elise (Lindsay Seim as a younger version of Lin Shaye‘s character).
Back in the present, adult Josh and wife Renai (Byrne) have fled to grandma’s house after the harrowing events of “Insidious,” which ended with Elise dead.
Renai doesn’t know for sure that Josh didn’t kill the medium, and neither do the cops. It doesn’t help that Josh has a faintly demonic bent to his denials about the spooky apparitions, a piano that plays by itself, etc.
“You have to relax,” he purrs. “Ignore them and they will go away.”
Of course, “they” don’t. That’s when granny Lorraine (Hershey) summons Elise’s old partner (Steve Coulter), along with her younger ghost hunters, Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson).
Then the joking begins. In white shirts and black ties, the ghost hunters have everything but the sunglasses and sports coats of the “Men in Black.” They’re credulous when all around them are incredulous.
That’s the sly comfort in this “feel-good” horror franchise. Out there, in the Yellow Pages, there are “experts” who can help you deal with the supernatural. And even after death, a good ghost hunter is still on the clock.
The techno-props — ranging from baby monitors (been there, heard that) to old found video, to tin-can telephones — convey the ghostly voices from beyond. The Ouija board substitute here is a Boggle bag of letter dice that pass on messages from the dead.
The beastly things we see are nothing you wouldn’t recognize from “Mommie Dearest.”
And everybody keeps a straight face.
“Chapter 2” isn’t as clever as the screenwriters seem to think, and the movie isn’t remotely as scary as the film it is following. But that’s not to say that it isn’t entertaining, on some level, even if you can tell the “name” actors are waiting for the checks to clear, ready to hand off this “franchise” to lesser lights, and the sooner the better.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2
Cast: Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey
Directed by James Wan, written by Leigh Whannell and James Wan. A FilmDistrict release.
Running time: 1:45
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of terror and violence, and thematic elements