This is a difficult one. On the one hand, the constant use of jump scares, which last for about two-thirds of the running time, feels like a cheat. The camera closes in on an actor, the music drops, and then, suddenly, WHAM, something appears, screams indecipherably, and a discordant note strikes. Repeat. And repeat, repeat, and repeat. It’s not difficult to do, and director James Wan (Saw) does it so frequently that you start to wonder, fairly early, if he can do anything else.
He doesn’t seem to, since the story is nonexistent for a large part of the beginning, and once Wan finally settles down and tells it, it gets convoluted and downright silly.
What we do get, at least before the spoiler-mark, is a flashback to 1986. Young Josh Lambert (Garrett Ryan) is troubled by spooky visions so his parents call in Elise Ranier (Lin Shaye), a paranormal something-or-other who senses deadly presences and then decides to hypnotize Lambert into forgetting everything. Jump to the present day, where Josh (Patrick Wilson), his wife Renai (Rose Byre), and son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) are recovering from the events of the first film.
Josh starts acting strange, and Renai suspects something’s come back with him (come back from the supernatural place he went in the first film). At the same time, two bumbling ghost chasers, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), team up with quasi-psychic and former colleague of Elise, Carl (Steve Coulter), and Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) to contact the spirit of (Spoiler for the first film) Elise.
That’s about the most detailed I can get without ruining some parts, but I don’t think it matters much, because…because, well, on the other hand, Insidious: Chapter 2 is a movie that knows what it wants to do, and while its ambitions aren’t very high, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it does it quite well.
This is a jumpy movie, and it’s likely the jumpiest you’ll see for a while. The isolation and claustrophobia of Wan’s setting and camera is uncomfortable, and he releases his grip only when he has to do something other than spook. As creepy and eerie and even funny (Wan tries to get a rise from everything, and the misfires and cliches, whether intentional or not, get some laughs) as the movie is when it starts, it hurts the remainder because the characters, up to the point until we’re supposed to start caring about them, have existed only to threaten or be threatened. If Wan wants to evoke some sympathy and concern for Josh and Renai and Dalton, he probably shouldn’t spend most of his time simply abusing them.
And yet, I admire Wan for keeping me edgy. The scares should get old and ineffective simply from their volume, but they don’t.
So what can I say? It’s the 2010s’ version of a ’50s B-movie: clunky, yes, but it does the job. If you like being spooked, you’ll get your money’s worth; if you want something more, well, what are you expecting from a movie called Insidious: Chapter 2?