"Insidious: Chapter 2" serves as a testing ground for director James Wan.
After a gory start with the original "Saw" and stops for two low-rent thrillers, "Dead Silence" and "Death Sentence," he stepped up for two exceptional horror films, "Insidious" and this summer's "The Conjuring."
He has proved he has a great talent for the rhythms, sounds, and spaces of horror.
However, with great talent comes great responsibility, and when offered the sequel to the successful "Insidious," he and his longtime co-screenwriter Leigh Whannell had to make a decision.
Either they could turn it down, or – like Steven Spielberg did with the second "Jurassic Park" – they could make more of the same, and make it the best they possibly could. They chose the latter.
The previous "Insidious" told the story of a boy with a strange gift that put him uncomfortably in touch with the world of the dead.
When his spirit disappeared, dad Josh (Patrick Wilson) was forced to enter this creepy, scary world, known as The Further, to rescue him.
Without giving too much away of the sequel, let's just say that things weren't quite settled after the last movie. Creepy things begin happening again, necessitating another trip into that nightmarish place.
Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey are back again, and Angus Sampson and Whannell return as Tucker and Specs, the comical paranormal investigators.
The plot requires certain characters to investigate creepy houses and an abandoned hospital, as well as check out strange noises.
This is where Wan does his best work. He seems to have no end of simple, scary ideas, moving his camera freely through three-dimensional space, and using doorways, walls, and obstacles to heighten suspense.
Composer Joseph Bishara provides a truly eerie, atonal score that adds an otherworldly feel to Wan's shots.
And though the movie takes a few shortcuts with the characters, viewers that remember them from the original "Insidious" will be able to read extra layers into them. They're still sympathetic.
Still, there's no denying that this material simply doesn't feel fresh anymore. The Further isn't an unknown factor anymore, nor are any of the hauntings. These ghosts have tried these same tricks before.
So, essentially, the main problem with "Insidious: Chapter 2" is that it's a sequel, and the first movie was better. If we could somehow erase that, we could see that it's not bad in itself; it contains some good scares, touching moments, and a decent amount of bang for your buck.