Picking up where reasonably effective haunted house shocker Insidious left off, James Wan's desultory sequel lazily trots out the same procession of scare techniques but with vastly diminished returns. An unfocused story that says 'boo' to linearity and coherence serves to make this insipid mess resemble a dog chasing its own tail for a mind-numbing 105 minutes.
Insidious: Chapter 2 follows on directly from the cliffhanger of its predecessor, which featured Josh (Patrick Wilson) strangling spiritual medium Elise (Lin Shaye) after rescuing his son Dalton from a creepy realm known as The Further. Much of what ensues involves the agonisingly slow process of Josh's wife Renai (Rose Byrne) figuring out that the man she loves is not quite himself. Paranormal 'ghostbusters' Specs (Leigh Whannell ) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) are soon summoned to investigate and provide dire attempts at comic relief, while Barbara Hershey returns as Josh's mother, who has a permanent expression of bemusement etched on her face regardless of the situation.
Much of the alienation felt by the viewer stems from the plot becoming too wrapped up in its own mythology and origins. The progression of the main story in the present day is frequently cut off in favour of various flashbacks to Josh's youth, recycled footage from the first movie and scenes we've already witnessed being replayed from a different character's perspective. You want to be driven from A to B without a plethora of groan-inducing detours that serve to prolong the agony.
This scattershot narrative strategy fails to yield any rewards in the movie's climax, which - quite literally - fumbles around in the dark in search of meaning. By that stage you simply wish someone would switch the damn lights on and manually roll the end credits.
James Wan has already showcased his slick directing talents and ability to orchestrate shocks, often using macabre imagery. Yet without an engaging story, all the tired scare techniques are mercilessly exposed. The sudden blasts of cacophonous noises, often accompanying brief flashes of ethereal figures, are so invasive that it feels like they're trying to bully the audience into a shudder. A yawn is more appropriate. It's about time horror movies adopted an amnesty on loud bangs on building infrastructure. Time for an e-petition?
Amidst the stale mediocrity lies a versatile turn from Patrick Wilson in dual roles. One of those instantly recognisable actors whose name you struggle to recall, Wilson effortlessly procures empathy from his role as the trapped father while inducing dread in his portrayal of the possessed and unhinged version. Should there ever be a remake of The Shining, Patrick Wilson's your man - if the casting director can remember his name. Rose Byrne is convincing too, but never stretched in a role that demands little else but forlorn looks of despair and frenzied running.
Yet no performance would be enough to save this unsatisfactory continuation. The only shocking thing about Insidious: Chapter 2 is how it was ever put into production with such an incoherent and unengaging script.