It's not necessary to buy a ticket to "Insidious: Chapter 2." Anyone who wants to replicate the experience — although I can't imagine why anyone would — can instead tie a blindfold around their head and find a friend to shoot off a cap gun, or clang cymbals, or perhaps just poke them in face, at randomly timed intervals.
That exercise would provide the same sort of "thrills," or at least jolts, as the movie, which is less a film in the traditional sense than a low-budget clip reel of long, ominous pauses intermittently interrupted by a vast library of SCREECHES and THUMPS and assorted other LOUD NOISES. It's not scary so much as it is irritating and jarring.
There is a "plot" — something about a haunted family in which both father and son have the ability to enter a spooky netherworld — but the story, if you can call it that, has all the weight of an apparition. Exposition is handled through cryptic nonsense like, "I know what happened. I went into that dark place and got our son back. And something evil followed me." Well! That explains everything.
In practice, there are a handful of settings: a couple of haunted old houses and an abandoned hospital (also haunted). The various characters spend most of the movie's running time wandering through these creaky, windy sets with looks of blank anxiety pasted to their faces, waiting for things to jump out at them.
Calling them "characters" is perhaps too generous. They are on-screen placeholders designed to facilitate the movie's endless, mindless jolts: a mother (Rose Byrne), a father (Patrick Wilson), his mom (Barbara Hershey) and a collection of blundering ghost-trackers (Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell and Steve Coulter). We learn nothing of interest about any of them, save that Mr. Coulter's character communicates with the dead by rolling lettered dice, as if playing some supernatural game of Boggle.
The haunted locations are practically museums of horror-movie cliche. The hospital is dark, festooned with cobwebs, and strewn with creepy old children's playthings. Dilapidated toy houses! Scraggly dolls! A fleet of rocking horses that spontaneously rock themselves! It's about as frightening as a clearance sale at Toys "R" Us.
The primary haunted house is an old Victorian with curtains that billow ominously in the wind, doors that squeak loudly before slamming themselves shut, and floorboards that register every step with an eerie creak. You would think that the house's owners, who've have had multiple encounters with ghosts over the decades, might have spent a bit on some renovations to make their haunted house not seem quite so haunted houselike.
Or perhaps they subscribe to the filmmakers' cheapo ethos. The movie's shoestring budget — its predecessor was made for just $1.5 million, far less than many single episodes of television — gives the production an amateurish vibe, more like a student film than a typical multiplex movie. It's easily the worst and most worthless movie I've seen all year, and I doubt it will have much competition.
TITLE: "Insidious: Chapter 2"
CREDITS: Directed by James Wan, screenplay by Leigh Whannell
RATING: PG-13 for violence, supernatural horror
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS