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Patrick Wilson, left, and Ty Simpkins star in “Insidious: Chapter 2,” which opens today.

Movie Review: Original scares scarce in horror franchise sequel

‘Insidious: Chapter 2’

When we last left the Lamberts, the family whose eldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) had been trapped in a comalike state in “Insidious,” the boy had awakened from his supernatural trance thanks to a rescue mission by his intrepid father. Like a paranormal Navy SEAL, Daddy (Patrick Wilson) had metaphorically rappelled, under hypnosis, into the spirit realm, where his son was being held captive by ectoplasmic terrorists.

“Insidious: Chapter 2” picks up the story there.

Where do you go with a tale that ended so over the top, in a fog-shrouded netherworld called “The Further”? Apparently, even further.

Although “Insidious” had built up a nice head of suspense for much of the film, its final act was absurdly out of proportion to the delicious sense of dread that had been created by director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, who, since collaborating on the 2004 “Saw,” have made a name for themselves as horror auteurs. Here, they try to outdo what they did in “Insidious,” piling on plot twists borrowed from a host of other movies that, while in some cases are genuinely creepy, turn “Chapter 2” into a bustling, overly busy mess.

Remember “Poltergeist”? It’s essentially the model for both “Insidious” films, which presuppose a parallel universe beyond the physical one, inhabited by malevolent entities who can drift in and out of our world, and into whose world we – or at least some of us – can also enter, willingly or not. That 1982 film posited an alternate “sphere of consciousness” that could be entered, quite literally, by spiritual spelunkers tethered to a rope. Similarly, “Insidious: Chapter 2” features a visit to the Further by someone tied to – I kid you not – a piece of string.

Talk about String Theory. Just contemplating the physics of this will make your head explode.

“I suppose I should have explained something,” says one of the spirit mediums (Steve Coulter), who is called in to assist the Lamberts. “This isn’t an exact science.”

No kidding.

Those who missed the first film will get a recap in “Chapter 2,” which centers on the father, Josh Lambert, who now appears to be haunted instead of Dalton. “Is something wrong with Daddy?” the boy asks, after Josh starts talking to himself and pulling rotten teeth out of his mouth.

Yes, kid, but it’s the movie you should be worried about, not your old man.

In addition to “Poltergeist,” “Insidious: Chapter 2” cribs from “The Shining,” “The Exorcist,” “Psycho” and other films. If it has to steal, at least it’s from some of the best. The problem is, it’s also reminiscent, in parts, of “Mommie Dearest” and, as a friend of mine pointed out, “A Reflection of Fear.” (Yeah, I had to look up that 1973 B movie, too. Don’t Google its plot twist if you don’t want a major spoiler.) Certain scenes in “Insidious: Chapter 2” look like outtakes from a zombie movie, with ghouls staggering around in the dark, arms outstretched.

And you thought this was a simple ghost story?

Stick to Wan’s “The Conjuring” (also starring Wilson) for that. Unfortunately, that exquisitely restrained fright-fest, which is still in theaters, is starting to look more and more like a fluke for the filmmaker, who seems to be running out of ideas, even as he amps up the demand for them. Get ready for even less of them in “Insidious: Chapter 3,” a sequel whose inevitability is ensured by the teaser ending of “Chapter 2.”

But there’s only one number that matters here. Considering how creatively bankrupt and stylistically profligate this installment is, the new movie should really be called “Insidious: Chapter 11.”

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