Insidious: Chapter 2 (United States, 2013)September 13, 2013
Insidious: Chapter 2 illustrates that, regardless of his past success in the horror movie field, James Wan is not infallible when it comes to the genre. The second installment of what is likely to become a franchise is disappointing precisely because of Wan's recent track record. Insidious was two-thirds of a great movie and The Conjuring was three-thirds of one. Insidious: Chapter 2 is not only unnecessary but it commits the cardinal sin of devaluing its predecessor. Since this movie is presented not just as a sequel but as a continuation (at one point, it re-creates a scene from the first film from a different perspective), the first Insidious no longer stands alone. It is now weighed down by a second half that's equal parts incoherent, tedious, and repetitive.
The primary purpose of Insidious: Chapter 2 is to get the filmmakers out of the corner they wrote themselves into when crafting the end of Insidious. Although the kid, Dalton (Ty Simkins), is free from the weird dark "Further," the psychic (Lin Shaye) who facilitated his escape is dead and Dalton's dad, Josh (Patrick Wilson), is trapped, with a demonic creature having taken possession of his body. Josh's wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), quickly figures out something isn't right but it's left up to his mom, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), to pick through the bones of the past and determine what's happening. The goal of Insidious: Chapter 2 is to free Josh from the "Further." This involves a lot of stumbling around in dark, decrepit rooms and corridors and enduring long, rambling flashbacks. Not only does Insidious: Chapter 2 lack tension (due in large part to its uneven, meandering pace) but even the scares are generic and obligatory. Wan, who has in the past shown the capability to develop and sustain high levels of suspense, falls back on the repeated use of "boo!" moments with things jumping in front of the camera and Joseph Bishara's score striking loud, discordant notes.
There are lengthy segments when Insidious: Chapter 2 seems unduly influenced by the supernatural aspects of the defunct David Lynch/Mark Frost TV series, Twin Peaks. There are demons that cross over and inhabit human bodies for the sole purpose of murder. There's a freaky other dimension that exists between life and death where spirits can become trapped. That place is ruled by demons and inhabited by strange creatures. The only things missing are dwarfs, cherry pie, and damn fine cups of coffee.
The stakes were elevated in Insidious by the "child in peril" element, but that's absent here. Until the last act, Dalton is all-but-forgotten. In Insidious: Chapter 2, it's dad in peril, which is a less compelling situation. The characters are not well-served by the screenplay (written by Leigh Wannell, who was also credited with Insidious). It relegates Josh to the role of an impotent shadow for most of the running time. Renai is marginalized; her sole purpose is to act freaked out and serve as a punching bag for demon-Josh. The actors, unsurprisingly, seem less invested.
Wan has indicated Insidious: Chapter 2 might be his last horror film. Regardless of whether or not he returns to this series, it's clear the studio wants it to continue. The cliffhanger at the end of Insidious was designed to tweak the audience; it didn't demand a follow-up and, in fact, the need to resolve it is one of the major failings of Chapter 2. Not so with the ending of this movie. Yes, there's another cliffhanger but, on this occasion, it's clearly a hook for a Chapter 3. Considering the bad taste left over from installment #2, I have no interest in revisiting this franchise again in the near future. Horror is supposed to be scary and suspenseful (or at least creepy), not confusing and sleep-inducing. The most dispiriting thing is that we know Wan understands this; in this case, he just doesn't execute it.
Insidious: Chapter 2 (United States, 2013)
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Cinematography: John R. Leonetti
Music: Joseph Bishara
U.S. Distributor: FilmDistrict