Film Review – Insidious: Chapter 2
Insidious: Chapter 2
Insidious: Chapter 2 comes off of an original film that, on one hand, had one of the strongest opening halves of a horror film in recent memory, but which also lost a fair amount of steam and its audience’s enthusiasm as it struggled to the finish. Still, the idea was solid and the execution was impressive, especially considering the micro-budget and short timeframe it was made in. But much like “The Further,” the mystical world beyond the living created in Insidious, the sequel exists in a murky haze, not quite sure where to go.
Before we even get into this, please don’t read on if you haven’t seen the first movie; this film has one of the highest requirements for entry of a sequel I can recall in recent times. With this film picking up where the last one left off, not only is it important that you have seen the original to understand a lot of what is going on, but the level of reference almost mandates that you have seen it recently. This level of continuity is admirable, but probably will turn off a fair amount of audience members who don’t really understand what is being referenced or why small details are important. Because of this, to even discuss Insidious: Chapter 2 beyond anything but generalities requires what could be called spoilers from the original film (though they are more of obvious horror tropes than anything).
If you were frustrated by the way Insidious ended, then this film probably will be challenging. Chapter 2 follows the story of the shadowy old woman who tormented Josh (Patrick Wilson) as a child, and his possession as an adult, which ended the last film. There are a fair number of scary moments (though less intense and less frequent than in the original), but the connections to the prior movie make you spend a decent amount of time reflecting back to try to recover the meaning of references from your memory. Still, this film is not for the faint of heart. Unlike the original, this is more about real-world scares…more The Shining, less Poltergeist. Even the ghosts this time are treated as less other-worldly, with a more human feel to them, though that fear of the “unknown” that made the first film engaging isn’t as present, and that hurts the overall experience.
After the massive success of the original Saw, the original Insidious, and lately The Conjuring, there is no question that James Wan has become one of the preeminent horror filmmakers working today (with a nod to Leigh Whannell, who was his collaborator on Saw and Insidious). Technically speaking, Wan knows all the clever tricks to make a scary film for cheap, and it’s probably no surprise that he has worked with Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli on the Insidious series, as well—which is some ways seems like the perfect collaborator if your goal is to truly scare people. Insidious: Chapter 2 does have many fine moments, but it definitely feels rougher around the edges. What used to be smooth, subtle pans for reveals in Wan’s other films feel quick and jerky here. This isn’t to say that other aspects, like the acting, aren’t good…Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Barbara Hershey are all back and very good, but they also feel much more misused or underused this time around. The craftsmanship we’ve come to expect from Wan isn’t quite there. And that is understandable, since he has so much on his plate (also having The Conjuring come out this year and preparing for Fast & Furious 7 next year). Even with the decrease, 60% quality James Wan is better than 90% of the horror directors working out there.
Horror and comedy are a funny combination. Sometimes the genres work great together and heighten the experience (see You’re Next as an example), or the humor can feel totally out of place and take you out of the movie. The combo has to fit the spirit of the story to succeed. This is the problem with Insidious: Chapter 2. There are some funny moments, and Leigh Whannell & Angus Sampson have fun as the paranormal investigators (though they did receive flack for their parts in the original movie), but within the context of this film, these scenes feel out of place. The story is about a family tormented by malevolent spirits—they should be closer to losing their sanity than having time to crack witty retorts. It defuses the intensity of the situation. Not only was the intentional humor off-putting at times, but there were parts of the movie that were getting laughed at by the audience that clearly weren’t meant to be comedic, showing that by playing around with comedy, the filmmakers hurt the audience’s ability to truly take the story seriously. This is in stark contrast to the original movie, which was much more serious. That paid off in helping to make the experience more scary.
Insidious: Chapter 2 isn’t a bad film, but it is even more flawed than the original. It ends up feeling pretty meh, caught somewhere between returning to what made the original exciting and trying to do something new and different. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to try something new, but this film fails to really capture either tone, getting lost somewhere along the way. Much like Patrick Wilson’s character, it can’t seem to find its way home again.