In most cases in which a low-budget independent film becomes such a hit that it earns a sequel, the second movie gets flooded with all of the cash that the first movie lacked. This can ironically be a recipe for crap, with the sequel lacking all of the magic that got it greenlit in the first place. Interestingly, this is not a problem for director James Wan's follow-up to his 2010 horror yarn Insidious, 2013's Insidious: Chapter 2. This sequel seems to have been shot on a similar shoestring budget, relying far more on careful pacing, smart camerawork, and an awful sense of dread than expensive sequences or spectacle.
The movie picks up where Insidious left off, with veteran medium Elise (Lin Shaye) having just been killed, presumably by a ghost, in the service of helping rid the troubled Lambert family of their pesky connection to the netherworld. In the days and weeks following, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) exhibits an obsessive desire to get things "back to normal," while his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) becomes increasingly freaked out by the half-heard murmurings coming from the baby monitor and the piano possibly playing itself in the next room. This all happens after Josh and Renai move their kids in with Josh's mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), who, of course, has some inside knowledge about her family's receptivity to supernatural forces.
The story ends up following Lorraine as she investigates whether she knows any evil people who might have died, thus creating a good candidate for haunting and possessing her family. Meanwhile, Josh and Renai go on a Shining-esque descent into hysteria. Much like with the first movie, the moment-to-moment scares are clever and often legitimately terrifying, while the sequences that seek to actually explain things can feel kind of silly. In fact, some of the scenes in which dead people have dialogue veer straight into Mommie Dearest-style campiness, complete with frilly white gowns and goth pancake makeup -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on your expectations.