There are some good things to be said about "Insidious: Chapter 2," though none of them have to do with the acting, directing, writing, lighting, sets, costumes or effects. As a business model, however, this burgeoning horror franchise is some kind of masterpiece.
It began with 2011's "Insidious," a haunted-house story about a father who ventures into a spirit realm called The Further to rescue his son. A clumsy hash of "Poltergeist" and "The Amityville Horror," and produced for a visibly low $1.5 million, the movie nevertheless benefited from a wide-reaching PG-13 rating and earned $97 million. That's a return on investment even Bernie Madoff couldn't promise.
So, here comes the sequel, "Insidious: Chapter 2." Josh Lambert is again played by scream king Patrick Wilson (also of "The Conjuring"), while Rose Byrne returns as his wife, Renai. But their son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), still has nightmares, and the house is still plagued by strange goings-on. Actually, the same goings-on: crackling baby monitors, self-moving toys, glimpses of women in Victorian gowns. Grandma Lambert (Barbara Hershey) starts to wonder: What if it isn't Josh who came back from the afterlife?
The demon-dad angle gives "Chapter 2" a chance to rip off "The Shining," but it also goes after "Psycho" and -- why not? -- "Mommie Dearest." All of which might have been wackily entertaining if the whole thing weren't so sluggishly paced, poorly lit and dispiritingly unoriginal. At times, "Chapter 2" almost seems like a knowing parody of a lousy horror flick.
It's directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell (also playing the ghostbusting assistant Specks), who created the "Saw" films; Oren Peli and Jason Blum, of the wildly successful "Paranormal Activity" series, are producers. Clearly, these people know what they're doing.
PLOT Malevolent spirits continue to plague the Lambert family.
RATING PG-13 (scary imagery)
CAST Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey
BOTTOM LINE More gruesome acting and ghastly writing in this abysmal sequel from the makers of "Saw."