Although 'Insidious: Chapter 2' delivers on the spine-tingling scares and mostly makes for an effective follow-up to the 2011 spook-fest, the supernatural chiller, for all intents and purposes, is ultimately your standard horror movie sequel, delivering much of the same while offering nothing fresh. Along with the same cast of actors reprising the same set of characters, including (*SPOILER ALERT*) Lin Shaye as calm but eccentric psychic Elise Ranier, who (*SPOILER ALERT, again*) died at the end of the last movie, much of the story follows in the same footsteps as its predecessor. An all-American family, two of which have a special gift — a curse, perhaps? — is haunted by nasty spirits wanting to live again.
Picking up shortly after the events of the first movie, the Lambert family moves to grandma's house while the police investigate the suspicious death of Elise. This means watching part one is unfortunately a requisite since the closing moments of that movie directly tie into the entire plot of this sequel. And it's not long before some freakishly creepy stuff starts to happen. Renai (Rose Byrne doing an excellent job with a face that seems to be in a perpetual state of fear and tearful distress) hears the grand piano in the parlor playing a familiar tune. Lorraine (Barbara Hershey also in constant sorrowful panic) catches glimpses of a woman in a white dress walking down the hall, but a changed, sickly-looking Josh (Patrick Wilson) is angrily in denial of these new torments.
Thankfully, the scares don't stop there, as a subplot involving Hershey looking further into the changes inflicting her son yield more goose bumps moments. Working with the same pair of ghost-hunting nerds from the first movie, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), her search requires the assistance of Elise's former psychic comrade and dice-reader Carl (Steve Coulter). Their hunt for answers takes them to the abandoned house of a hospital patient, where the mystery complements the rest of the movie with dreadful apprehension. While Lorraine and Carl probe deeper with urgency, the nerds break the seriousness and tension with a scaredy-cat shtick that almost reminds me of Abbot and Costello although here, they really go more for the scares than laugh-out-loud guffaws.
Regrettably, and as is the usual case with most horror sequels, what starts off strong eventually grows weaker, and this supernatural follow-up is ultimately no different. When the Scooby gang subplot is brought back around to connect with the main narrative — Josh's increasingly erratic and violent behavior — the film suddenly is no longer scary and reverts into another journey through the Further. What worked fantastically in 'Insidious' was the hair-raising mystery of the Bride in Black — the same pretty much goes for the bloodcurdling glimpses of the woman in white here — but the filmmakers decide to reveal everything by providing a backstory that turns her sad and pathetic. There are still a couple good jump scares to be enjoyed, but they're not quite as terrifying in light of new information.
In spite of that, however, something must be said of James Wan's talents behind the camera. With 'The Conjuring' already being a box-office smash and decidedly the scariest movie of the year, it goes without saying that 2013 has been a good year for Wan. And with 'Insidious: Chapter 2,' he demonstrates a great eye for creating a spookily eerie vibe and using the frame for all its worth. By having the camera constantly moving, either in handheld motion or methodically slow dolly shots, he keeps his audience on edge and maintains an air of unnerving atmosphere. This works most effectively when suddenly the camera is static while poor Dalton (Ty Simpkins) hears voices through a tin-can telephone with the other end of the string coming from the closet.
A few other memorable moments make the film a joy to watch, but it all adds up to a somewhat disappointing conclusion — an open-ended finale that suggests a terrifying unseen presence for Chapter 3.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Insidious: Chapter 2' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The Region A locked, BD50 disc sits opposite a DVD-9 copy inside a blue, eco-elite keepcase with a glossy cardboard slipcover. After several skippable trailers, viewers are taken to an animated screen with menu options along the bottom, music and full-motion clips.
The supernatural sequel moves into the Blu-ray neighborhood with an outstanding, heavily-stylized 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Several scenes change in visual quality deliberately to set the appropriate mood during specific moments of the story. This is, of course, most apparent when characters are trapped in the Further, and the picture is nearly drained of all colors except for splashes of reds and blues with an overall palette that leans heavily towards greens. Inside the family house, the visual design remains similar with bold primaries but weaker secondary hues. Outside daylight sequences, however, are vibrant and energetic, and flesh tones appear natural with healthy, lifelike complexions.
Presented in 2.39:1 frame, the image also displays a contrast level that intentionally falls on the lower end of the grayscale. While most of the photography is comfortably bright and crisp, it also comes with an eerie, almost foggy appearance to give the movie an ethereal appeal. Blacks are slightly affected by this, but not by much, as the video shows strong gradations in various shades and maintains excellent visibility within the shadows. The freshly-minted transfer arrives with superb definition and clarity that's consistent from beginning to end. Inside and outside the house, fine lines around the edges of objects and on various fabrics are distinctly detailed and razor-sharp, providing this horror follow-up with an exceptional high-def presentation.
'Insidious: Chapter 2' also makes its Blu-ray debut with a first-rate and brilliantly creepy DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that will have viewers jumping out their seats. The design makes exceptional use of the rears with a variety of noises and sounds that effectively immerse the listener and send chills up the spine. Whispers move and echo with frighteningly scary directionality while footsteps and floorboards creak overhead with flawless panning. The loud, screeching music also bleeds into the surrounds to generate a disturbingly hair-rising environment.
In the front soundstage, imaging is expansively broad with an extensive dynamic range that delivers clean, detailed highs and well-balanced mids. Low-frequency effects are reserved mostly for jump scares, but when employed, bass adds a deep, palpable impact that frightens and resonates throughout the room. Atmospherics move from one channel to the next convincingly, creating a highly engaging presentation. All the while, vocals are very well-prioritized in the center.
Although 'Insidious: Chapter 2' delivers on the spine-tingling scares and mostly makes for an effective follow-up to the 2011 spook-fest, the supernatural chiller is ultimately your standard horror movie sequel. Nonetheless, director James Wan demonstrates a great talent for creating a spookily eerie vibe and developing an unnerving atmosphere. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent near-reference quality audio and video presentation that will delivers the jump scares. With a healthy set of supplements, the overall package is a great purchase for fans, while others will feel generally satisfied with a rental.