In case you hadn’t noticed, James Wan has become Hollywood’s latest It Boy director. After launching his career with the cleverly gory first installment in the Saw franchise in 2004, he’s continued to crank out effectively lean low-budget chillers like 2007’s Death Sentence, 2011’s Insidious, and this summer’s white-knuckle sensation, The Conjuring. Not surprisingly, the studio suits took notice: Next up, the 36-year-old’s hot hand will be grabbing the wheel on The Fast and the Furious 7, in which Vin Diesel no doubt will be forced to slice Paul Walker’s Achilles’ tendon before he can step on the gas pedal.
Before Wan could segue over to grease-monkeyland, though, he apparently had one more obligation to scratch off his to-do list: the shambling, so-so possession sequel, Insidious: Chapter 2. Picking up where the first movie left off, Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell’s follow-up reunites us with the unlucky Lambert clan. Mom and dad (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) have rescued their son from a demonic netherworld thanks to Lin Shaye’s smilingly spooky medium, Elise. The voyage back from the beyond cost Elise her life and also seems to have let another evil genie out of the bottle. Could that be why Wilson’s Josh is acting so strangely? It turns out that he has a haunted past of his own. So his mother (Barbara Hershey) calls in Elise’s old ghost-busting partner (Steve Coulter), who uses a set of what looks like old Boggle dice to communicate with the spirit world in an attempt to get to the bottom of why this family is such a juicy target for unhappy souls on the other side. A pair of nerdy paranormalists straight out of a lesser Scooby-Doo episode lend a hand.
The problem is, Wan is reaching into the same old grab bag of shock scares, creaky-door sound effects, and ominous baby monitor voices he used in the far better original Insidious. He’s recycling the same old tired tropes with diminishing returns. Here, the messy story and cartoony performances seem to be the result of the film’s overriding commercial imperative to wring more bucks out of a franchise that should have begun and ended with the first film. Its lack of both originality and any real memorable moments feels shameless and lazy. Adding insult, the movie ends on a cliffhanger, guaranteeing that Insidious: Chapter 3 will soon be coming to a theater near you. They should quit while they still have some audience goodwill left. C-