It would be in your best interest, if you have an inkling to go and see INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 anytime soon, to re-watch Insidious right before you hit the sequel. I'm a big proponent that every sequel—even a horror sequel—should stand on its own as a film and not wholly depend on what has come before, but clearly the makers of Insidious 2 don't agree. INSIDIOUS was a wonderful piece of scary, with a group of top-notch lead actors (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as husband and wife Josh and Renai Lambert) and handful of great character actors (including one of the queens of character actors, Lin Shaye) being put through the paces by ghosts being drawn to the couple's oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins, most recently seen as the kid in IRON MAN 3).
We learned in INSIDIOUS that Josh actually had similar issues when he was Dalton's age but that spiritual advisor Elise (Shaye) erased the terrible memories from the boy at the request of his mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). Normally when reviewing a sequel, I don't dig too deep into the storyline of the film before, but INSIDIOUS 2 actually retells portions of the first film in different ways. For example, the movie opens showing us exactly what I just described, with younger actors playing Josh, Lorraine and Elise (although I'm pretty sure Shaye's voice is still being dubbed in during those scenes) going through the motions of recognizing what is wrong with Josh (he had a ghost getting progressively closer to him every time a photo was taken) and then wiping the fear from him, as well as his ability to send an astral version of himself into "the Further," where ghosts chill out until someone decides where they should move on to.
But INSIDIOUS 2 also has the audacity to reverse engineer a major scare sequence from the first film from the perspective of the "ghost," resulting in some fairly terrifying moments for the family, even though the entity is trying to help them. It sounds more confusing than it is, and sometimes it's clever and cool, but mostly it made me laugh. The present-day part of the film picks up almost immediately after the events in the first film. Josh is not charged with Elise's death because there's no proof he did it; quite the contrary. There's evidence that a bride in black did it, but really what's happened is that nasty old bitch got into Josh's body and left him alone in the "Further," looking for a way out.
Renai is convinced something is wrong with Josh; Lorraine is too, and it doesn't help that both are still seeing ghostly creatures in the house they're now staying in. In an almost separate film, the Elise's two assistants (played by Angus Sampson and screenwriter Leigh Whannell) enlist the help of another psychic and old friend of Elise, named Carl (Steve Coulter), who uses lettered dice to talk to spirits. So what we're left with (if you're keeping score) is a story about Josh acting weird and creepy and everyone just thinking they're imagining seeing ghosts again, and a secondary tale about searching for the identity of the bride in black and how she is connected to Josh, apparently since he was a kid.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 is a collection of truly terrifying moments (probably even more than the first film) strung together and loosely connected by a weak plot. The film's biggest sin is attempting to give every unknown aspect of the first film an explanation or justification; it's simply not needed and doesn't add anything to my love of the first film to know where the bride comes from, or about other victims of her horrid existence when she was living. These sequences have the scent of deleted scenes or excised ideas from the original's screenplay, but aren't nearly that interesting.
I'm fairly certain that director James Wan (Saw, THE CONJURING and, of course, INSIDIOUS) is the only director working today that can scare me so completely in film after film. I marvel at his setups, his use of silence, darkness, and most importantly, timing. I can literally hear the thought enter my head, "If something scary happens right now, I will lose my shit," and then he waits an extra beat before unleashing his terror upon me. If all you really care about is screaming and laughing at how loud you screamed with your friends (and that's a legitimate way to watch these films), then you might be satisfied with what Wan and Whannell have put together. But Insidious set the bar ridiculously high, and I'd like to see something that feels like they really tried something different here. Instead they resort to a great number of tired, standard-issue horror tactics that usually result in pulling us right out of the film and into boredom. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 never quite enters boredom territory, but predictable is a close relative.
I'd legitimately sad to report that INSIDIOUS 2 doesn't make for an impressive second half to this story. I was really hoping Wan would exit (temporarily, we hope) the horror genre to go make FAST & FURIOUS 7 with a mind-melting exercise in combining great actors and plot with wonderful scares. Instead we get what feels strangely like cashing in on a career highlight. It's far from a complete failure as a movie, but we've seen Wan do better. Hell, we saw him do better less than two months ago.