Director James Wan‘s “Insidious: Chapter 2,” the follow-up to his 2011 horror hit, might feel more potent if the bar hadn’t been raised earlier this year with the terrifying “The Conjuring” — which Wan also directed. Still, if you’re a fan of the post-“Poltergeist” shocks and scares offered up by the first “Insidious,” then you’ll be thrilled to hear that “Chapter 2” manages to jolt and unsettle without merely repeating itself.
Teaming again with writer Leigh Whannell — who also co-stars as Specks, half of the series’ Frick-and-Frack team of ghost chasers, alongside Angus Sampson as Tucker — Wan picks up right where “Insidious” left off. Haunted dad Josh (Patrick Wilson) returns from a parallel dimension full of restless spirits with his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins, “Iron Man 3”). Like Josh, Dalton can astrally project while he sleeps and travel to a place between our world and the afterlife, where the dead sometimes choose to follow the living back home.
“Insidious” fans will recall that the earlier film ends with the realization that Josh has become possessed by a ghost, so this time around, it’s all about his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) figuring out what’s living in Josh’s body and how to get it out.
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To get too deeply into the plot details would be to ruin much of the fun that “Insidious: Chapter 2” has to offer, but suffice it to say that Whannell and Wan get the most out of secret rooms, abandoned hospitals, boarded-up houses, creepy basements and dark and foreboding bedroom closets to keep the scares coming. And even if the film never offers the armrest-clutching terror that “The Conjuring” did, it’s spooky and funny enough to make for a briskly entertaining experience.
Taking a page from “Paranormal Activity 2” — and doing it much, much better — “Insidious: Chapter 2” uses its predecessor as a jungle gym and unpacks its prepositions, going in front, behind, around, about, alongside and through the plotline of the first movie to embellish and inform the second one.
Wan’s definitely playing things more tongue-in-cheek here — he loves framing Wilson in a shadowy way that makes the possessed Josh look like evil incarnate — but he’s also adept at the sudden noises and abrupt appearances and creepy-crawlies that make movies like this date-night staples.
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This is no actor’s showcase, since the characters have already been established and now it’s just a matter of learning things, screaming, reacting in horror, fighting off spectral menaces and then screaming some more, but Wilson, Byrne, Hershey and company throw themselves into it with nary a raised eyebrow to be found. They may not be given much to do here, but they certainly commit to what they’ve got.
“Insidious: Chapter 2” has clearly been designed to appeal to the viewers who loved the first go-round, but it’s a sequel that ventures into enough new and challenging directions that it might even win over a nay-sayer or two.