Quick: Name the last horror movie sequel that was better than its original.
If you're drawing a blank, that's expected. Many sequels falter trying to recreate the appeal of the original while bringing novelty to a new story, and horror movies especially struggle with this, because there are only so many ways a premise can be scary. While "Insidious: Chapter 2" does take the story in a logical direction and offers some solid grab-the-person-next-to-you scares, it's not quite on par with what director and co-writer James Wan ("The Conjuring") accomplished with "Insidious" in 2010. Still, fans of the original and true horror aficionados won't mind spending money to see it on the big screen.
After a brief prologue shows important events from patriarch Josh's childhood in the '80s, "Insidious: Chapter 2" picks up right where "Insidious" left off, with a possessed Josh (Patrick Wilson) having just killed psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) and Josh's wife Renai (Rose Byrne) in shock. Unfortunately, demons have followed Josh and Renai's son Dalton (Ty Simkins) back from the Further (a purgatory-type setting where demons attempt to latch onto humans and rejoin the living), and a move to Grandma Lorraine's (Barbara Hershey) house doesn't help.
The middle part of the story follows Renai as she's driven crazy by a self-playing piano, ghosts in the house and baby Kali (Brynn and Madison Bowie) inexplicably falling out of her crib. She also suspects Josh is extremely dangerous but has no idea how to address the issue. Meanwhile, Lorraine enlists the help of Specs (co-writer Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to figure out who (or what) killed Elise. With the help of Elise's old friend Carl (Steve Coulter), this path takes some interesting directions that add clarity to the events of the first film while nicely lending substance to this story.
As in the first film, watch the opening credits closely, as they foreshadow future events.
The clear three-act structure feels a bit regimented, and because the film gets better toward the end, it's hard to say it's always a success. To his credit, Wan does well creating an ominous atmosphere of gloom; little touches such as red light on the staircase and smash zoom shots (the camera zooms in while it simultaneously moves back or vice versa) create an unsettling feeling of dread.
Here, the movie falters. There are some good scares and freaky moments, but what's interesting is that it plays like a drama at times, with legitimate family dysfunction and life-or-death circumstances keeping tension high. This is a good thing, because it means Wan isn't relying solely on scare tactics for the film to be effective.
All that said, the final impact is underwhelming. The slow start does it no favors, and though it makes sense conceptually as a sequel, it still recycles too many bits from the original (psychic table reading, trouble in the Further, etc.) to be dynamic and new.
"Insidious: Chapter 2" is far from awful, but you will need to keep your expectations in check. o