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An unapologetically derivative approach proved no obstacle at the box office for 2011’s Insidious, so Chapter 2 should equally appeal to undiscriminating audiences, although the series would not appear to have franchise potential comparable to director-producer James Wan’s Saw films. Genre-wise, Chapter 2 has the iconic Friday the 13th weekend all to itself among debuts, which might boost returns, but also might send expectations unrealistically high. In the L.A. area, the theatrical run should get a boost from Universal Studios’ incorporation of an Insidious “maze” in its annual Halloween Horror Nights attraction opening Sept. 20.
Chapter 2 picks up immediately after the concluding events of Insidious, just as Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) Lambert discover the death of family friend and gifted psychic Elise (Lin Shaye), after she’s guided Josh on the retrieval of their son Dalton’s (Ty Simpkins) spirit from the netherworld of some evil astral plane that Elise refers to as “the Further.”
Renai and Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) are just glad that Dalton has recovered from a prolonged coma, failing to notice Josh’s escalating derangement, which only worsens with persistent headaches and sleeplessness. Extended flashbacks predating the first installment establish that Josh was much like his son as a child, having fallen victim to evil spirits that haunted his mind and made off with his soul before Elise was able to bring him back to reality, apparently unharmed.
Even after Elise’s repeated interventions, evil entities continue to bedevil the Lamberts, causing havoc in the creepy old family home they’ve recently moved back into as Josh slips deeper into paranoia and violence. Lorraine decides to call on Elise’s former co-investigator, Carl (Steve Coulter), as well as her mismatched assistants, Specs (screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), to root out the source of the haunting. Through a series of highly unlikely coincidences, the ghostbusters improbably connect the Lamberts’ afflictions to an old acquaintance of Lorraine’s and the malevolent consequences of his traumatic childhood, all in an effort to drag Josh back from the precipice of impending catastrophe.
In Chapter 2, the filmmakers essentially replicate the same derivative approach employed in the original, stringing together ideas and associations from The Exorcist, Poltergeist and numerous other haunters, this time with a generous dose of The Shining incorporated as well. Setting aside the movie’s tediously lame dialogue, self-conscious performances and frequently predicable scares, the narrative’s compulsively shifting chronology intermittently manages to engage, although it does little to obscure the distracting shortcomings of both plot and character development.
Chapter 2’s many similarities to Wan’s The Conjuring — another haunted-house horror tale that displays many of the same narrative and thematic elements as Insidious — may have some wondering if he’s cannibalizing his own material, even though the latter is a far more elegantly accomplished film. (Released earlier in the summer, it crossed $100 million in only its third week of release.) Unflattering comparisons aside, the driving force behind a Chapter 3 sequel will likely be determined by ticket sales rather than the intrinsic quality of the material.
Production: Blumhouse Productions
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Steve Coulter, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Director: James Wan
Screenwriter: Leigh Whannell
Producers: Jason Blum, Oren Peli
Executive Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Steven Schneider, Charles Layton, Peter Schlessel, Lia Buman, Xavier Marchand
Director of photography: John Leonetti
Production designer: Jennifer Spence
Costume designer: Kristin M. Burke
Editor: Kirk M. Morri
Music: Joseph Bishara
Rated PG-13, 103 minutes
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