Releasing his second horror film in just as many months, James Wan has established himself not only as one of the true masters of the genre, but also the most prolific. When it comes to hair-raising chills there are few better, and he's proven just as capable whether dabbling in the torture porn of Saw or playing audience emotions like a fiddle with this summer's The Conjuring. Insidious was a wildly inventive twist on the "spooky child" horror, and for all the ingenious ways Wan found to twist our stomachs into knots, the film traded in silly cornball antics with equal vigor.
Insidious Chapter 2 picks up where the last one left off in just about every way, mere moments after the somewhat pathetic Lambert clan have just rescued their son (Ty Simpkins) from the astral realm known as The Further. But before this, we take the first of many trips into the past, to help flesh out what will become an unnecessarily convoluted back story that doesn't quite pay off. There we learn more about the newly-deceased Elise (the scenery chomping Lin Shaye) and her connection to Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey, still channeling The Entity). Back in the present, all should be hunky dory between Josh and his wife Renai (perpetually shocked and awed Rose Byrne), but they're still being terrorized by evil spirits. Worst of all, it seems to have jumped from the son over to Josh, who not only looks like an extra from The Walking Dead, but is strangely dismissive of Renai's fears.
Where Insidious found just the right balance between white-knuckle thrills and comic relief, the mix is way off this time and much of it has to do with Wan falling back on standard horror tactics. Jump scares and shocks fill the quiet spaces rather than effective tension building. Bumbling ghostbusters Specs (writer Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) are just as funny and ineffectual this time around, and if there are any characters deserving of a spinoff it's them. Byrne doesn't get a whole lot to work with, but it's shocking how easily Wilson transforms into a menacing figure with just a simple twist of lighting. He's genuinely the creepiest thing about the incoherent Insidious Chapter 2, which has a few scares but doesn't sink down into your bones like Wan's films usually do.