Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, who took horror to a new level in “Saw,” are well on their way to a new franchise, exploring the paranormal with “Insidious.” This is the now-familiar theme of a family thrown into terror when spirits that are the antithesis of Casper the Friendly Ghost drop in and prove to be nasty guests.
“Insidious,” which hit theaters in spring 2011, is the story of the Lamberts, whose world is turned inside out when son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into a coma after a mysterious incident in the attic of their house. Parents Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) seek the help of expert Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who uncovers key secrets of the past and helps Josh enter the spiritual world and pull Dalton out. But it is costly, as Elise is found murdered.
“Insidious: Chapter 2” opens with a back story dating to 1986. Elise first meets Josh as a child, summoned to the home by Lorraine Lambert (Jocelin Donahue playing the younger version of the character portrayed in current day by Barbara Hershey). Young Josh in his dreams punches through to the spiritual world, and under hypnosis administered by Elise begins communicating with an unseen entity. In a superb piece of casting, Lindsay Seim is excellent as a younger Elise.
Back to present day, the story picks up where “Insidious” left off, with Dalton out of the coma and the police investigating the death of Elise — and Josh as a possible suspect. With the house being a crime scene, the Lamberts relocate to Lorraine’s house — a bad idea considering that Lorraine, like her son, likes to live in a multi-story, creaky house with lots of squeaky doors and a basement. The house might as well have a banner stretched across its front saying: Restless spirits welcome — all creepy amenities included.
Although Josh is cleared of Elise’s death, something is not quite right with him since he rescued Dalton. When the usual spooky things commence in this house, Renai is convinced the paranormal entities have followed them into the residence, while Josh gets suspiciously more intense in his denials that anything is wrong.
The fright factor in “Insidious: Chapter 2” has been diluted by overexposure. After all, doors opening up slowly, radios coming on, pianos playing by themselves and toys coming to life tend to get blase after the 100th movie about ghosts. Fortunately, the Wan-Whannell team adds intrigue to the story, building hints as to what, if anything, is wrong with not only the present Josh, but what was going on with him back in 1986. Whannell, incidentally, recreates his role as paranormal investigator assistant Specs, and Angus Sampson returns as the other assistant Tucker, offering the comedy relief of these sometimes bumbling guys.
Also, Shaye, whose Elise was a fan favorite among “Insidious” aficionados, makes a popular return. The story line forces viewers to pay attention and there are some clever and unexpected tie-ins, making this chapter, while not as frightful, effectively creepy, capping it with a teaser — yes, at least one more chapter in the “Insidious” story appears to be inevitable, and the expectations will be high. The Wan-Whannell team has shown to have the chops to keep the story fresh amid a well-worn theme.