Insidious: Chapter 2 scares off fear from first chapter

Director James Wan has had a very good year. 

With this summer’s surprising and impressive horror film “The Conjuring,” Wan returns with “Insidious: Chapter 2,” a muddled but frightened piece of popcorn cinema that will please some, but leave others scratching their heads after their heart rates return to normal. 

It is best to seek out the first film for those who have not seen  “Insidious,” because diving into the sequel will feel like being given a book with some missing chapters. 

Wan spends no time in the second film introducing the characters. He and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, who also plays the ghostbuster Specs in the film, are aware the audience is in sequel-land. If you are not conversant with the story and the milieu of the first film, too bad, because this film’s sole aim is to scare – and it often does with effective results. 

The film returns to the scene of the crime from the first film. Elise (Lin Shaye), a medium who assists the Lamberts in the first “Insidious,” has been murdered, and Josh, played by the underrated and magnetic Patrick Wilson, is the only suspect. 

Watching Wilson in action, along with Rose Byrne, who plays Josh’s wife Renai, is the essential facet that makes “Insidious: Chapter 2” seem grounded toward a tangible validity without reverting to the absurd that plagues so many modern horror films.  

Josh returns to stay with his mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) in the house where all the things that go bump in the night began, and with his graveling voice and sinister demeanor, something is clearly wrong with him. 

What transpires is an exercise in sound design. Sounds from baby toys, wooden floors, the piano in the living room and, of course, the whispers from the “great beyond” trigger our fears toward the entity that haunts the Lambert family. 

These fears are also followed by the nagging internal question, “What the hell are the characters thinking?” 

These questions are due in part to dubious writing choices from Whannell

For example, Lorraine, Specs, his partner Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Carl, played by the subtle Steve Coulter, embark on an expedition to an abandoned hospital ward in search of clues. These are grown adults who should certainly be aware of the pious attributes sure to come from walking into a cobweb-infested hospital.  

The second, without divulging plot, is toward the end of the film in the land called,  “The Further,” a place where ghosts in limbo drift. Throughout the two films, Josh has shown his patriarchal standing, but when Wan reveals what’s been haunting him, one wonders if Josh was really afraid or if he was reacting in such a way to represent the audience’s frightened state.  

While some may respond with the fact that it’s just a movie, and perhaps they are right, I was expecting something from Wan that resembled the first film and what made it so engaging. 

“Insidious: Chapter 2” made me laugh more than fear its attempts to evoke the fright of the dead in me. That is not to mitigate Wan’s ability to scare, because when he does in “Insidious: Chapter 2,” the sensation hits you with great potency. He just did it better in “The Conjuring.” 

Graded: C+