Review: 'Insidious: Chapter 2' Rests on Familiar Scares & Lame Story
by Jeremy Kirk
September 13, 2013
With films like Saw, the under-appreciated Dead Silence, and the terrifying pair of Insidious and The Conjuring, director James Wan has put himself top of the list for modern masters of horror. Each time out of the gate, his films are loaded with style different from his previous works and always delivers more than run-of-the-mill scares. With Insidious: Chapter 2, though, Wan falls into the dreaded sequel territory, something he didn't even get roped into with Saw. This latest outing offers some decent thrills, but hits chords all too familiar and easy, not something that jolts excitement into the promise of a new franchise.
Picking up exactly where the first Insidious left off, we're quickly reintroduced to the Lambert family. Josh (Patrick Wilson), the father who has been stalked by the evil spirit of an old woman since he was a child, may or may not now be possessed by that very spirit. His wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), just wants to move past the horrific events of the first film, though the tragic murder of the medium, Elise (Lin Shaye), has her wondering if the hauntings are over. It isn't long before things begin going bump in the night again, and the Lambert family - Renai and her three children, anyway - once again finds itself fighting off forces from the strange spirit world and trying to save one of their own from being lost to that other world forever.
Really, with the way Insidious ended, there was no other way for this follow-up to being other than jumping right back into the thick of it all. After a brief flashback to Josh's youth that sets up some more of the overall mystery, the film lunges forward, bringing most of the cast and characters back from the original. That is one element Insidious: Chapter 2 definitely has in its favor. It's nice to see actors like Wilson and Byrne taking on these roles again, developing these characters even further. Likewise for Wan and the returning screenwriter, Leigh Whannell.
However, it becomes apparent very early that Insidious: Chapter 2, when it's not spinning its wheels, is taking its sweet time getting to any big reveals on the mysteries set up in the first film. They weren't even mysteries that needed much of a resolution, either. Instead of progressing much forward, the sequel bounces around in time and utilizes flashbacks to both raise and answer questions.
This same technique reveals information about some of the more enigmatic terrors from the first film and ends up even deconstructing a few of the scares Insidious threw at us. It's an interesting idea, something the Saw franchise actually did, as well. But none of this leads to heightened suspense or even the overpowering discomfort that came from Insidious' incessant barrage of jump scares and loud music cues. Quite the contrary, really, since some of that deconstruction actually puts a lame spin on certain moments from the first Insidious. Leave it to an unenthusiastic sequel to actually make its predecessor a worse movie.
While these tropes are considered tired in the genre, Wan's handling of them in the first Insidious was excellent. The jump scares actually led to a sense of overall terror, that anything could and would jump out at you at any minute, sometimes when you least expect it. Wan's scaring abilities are still on full display here with Insidious: Chapter 2, and his ability to craft interesting shots and extremely cool camera movements continues to sharpen.
However, the momentum has been wasted. Some scares even come across as gratuitous in Insidious: Chapter 2, as if someone noticed it had been too long since a creepy woman in white walked across the background or keys on a piano slam down with a crash. At least the film doesn't spend half its time on opening doors and knocking books off shelves. Nor does it offer anything new to be frightened of, really.
With Shaye's character out of commission, a new "link to the other side" character has to be introduced, and Steve Coulter does a fine job as one of Elise's former associates. However, it's a character out of necessity. Absolutely nothing is introduced in the way of real drama with this character, and his Ouija dice are no match in the creep department for Elise's gas mask. They try to be, though, so kudos on the effort. The character ends up giving Insidious: Chapter 2 more cringe-inducing moments than actually charged, scary ones.
The rest of the cast, mostly returning players, fit back into their respective roles comfortably. Wilson and Byrne are once again solid, though Wilson is tasked with delivering much more this time around. He pulls off the creepier side of the character nicely, something anyone who has seen Hard Candy knows the man can do. Ty Simpkins returns as the Lambert's eldest son, Dalton, and though he doesn't have a red-faced demon coming after him this time around, he still pulls off his terrified performance well.
The absence of that red-faced demon, arguably the most terrifying aspect to the first Insidious, is a notable one. The first film had heaps of pale, ashy ghosts who moved methodically and jerked towards the audience for maximum scares. The fact that there was also a demon lurking in that other world gave the whole premise a more menacing tone. This is missing from Insidious: Chapter 2, and though it's not the only element that keeps it from matching the fright factor of the original film, it certainly gets monotonous watching all these ghosts skulk about.
Jeremy's Rating: 5 out of 10
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