“Less is more” seemed to be the guiding principle for writer-director James Wan and his screenwriter buddy Leigh Whannell when they made the 2010 fright flick “Insidious.”
They refrained from loading the picture up with jolt-shock moments — Behind you! Boo! — that are the lazy man’s way of getting a rise out of an audience. Instead, they concentrated on carefully creating a portrait of a sympathetic family besieged by malevolent otherworldly forces and waited until late in the movie to judiciously dispense the jolts. The result is a pretty effective little chiller.
For “Insidious: Chapter 2,” which picks up the story immediately after the events of the first movie, they adopted a rather different philosophy: “more, more, more and more.”
More, as in more haunted houses. There are two in the first picture. There are three in the sequel. And a haunted hospital besides. As they shift focus back and forth among all those scary places, the filmmakers create a confusing narrative muddle.
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More, as in more haunted objects. There’s a haunted piano, plunking out tunes. Haunted rocking horses. A kid’s haunted tin-cans-and-string phone. (Really? In the age of the iPhone, what kid today would have even heard of such a thing?) Even a haunted baby walker, zipping madly around rooms. You just may laugh yourself to death at that one.
And most of all, more shots of startled, fearful faces gawping at the onrush of frightful sights. The face of the terrorized wife and mother (Rose Byrne, returning along with all the other significant players from the first picture). The face of the distressed grandmother (Barbara Hershey). The face of the psychic (Lin Shaye) who got strangled at the end of the first movie — She’s baack! The face of the boy (Ty Simpkins) who was rendered comatose by demonic forces in “Insidious.”
But one important face is not fearful, but rather fearsome. And that’s the face of the father (Patrick Wilson) who is — you guessed it — haunted. That deathly pallor. Those glowering eyes. Those homicidal hands. Look out! Mad Dad! Eeek! He’s re-enacting Jack Nicholson’s “Heere’s Johnny!” freakout from “The Shining.”
Been there, seen that. In the end, more, more, more produces a much less effective fright flick.
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org