At one point, some kind of psychologist person made the claim that if something were to scare a human being so much anything else would cease to scare them again. This is why sequels to such classics like ‘Jaws’, ‘The Exorcist’, and ‘Psycho’ were met with groans, snores and even laughs. ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ seeks to run that trend into the ground with a sterling confidence but ends up shaking the foundation of the haunted house the filmmakers sought to create.
Picking up directly where the original left off ‘Chapter 2’ is the sequel to the surprising hit, ‘Insidious’—which I quite enjoyed. It injected a bit of shock in the tired genre laced with an ominous, suspenseful shadow that helped rocket director James Wan (‘Saw’, ‘The Conjuring’) to stardom. It’s a style that he tries to continue here, and for the first 2/3 of the movie manages quite well.
The nooks, crannies and corners of the house are shrouded in darkness while the premonition of evil lurks within them, benefitted by a lack of music. I will go out on a limb here and say that Wan’s recent films are amongst the best lit—or unit— movies on the market. There is an absorbing quality in not showing everything, a trait Spielberg set down and others ignored.
With the best part of the film recognized, and out of the way, it is worth noting there is some resemblance of a story here. To explain it, however, would be to a) detail the ending of the previous film and b) be the literary equivalent of ‘ain’t nobody got time for that’. Let’s just say it involves the father of the troubled family, Josh (Patrick Wilson), remaining possessed by an unwanted spirit whose intentions could mean the lives of the rest of his family and anyone else involved. Uh-oh, someone has some daddy issues. I’m sorry that’s not funny. This is all very serious.
Wilson gives a terrific performance that shows the superior alternative to what has been depicted in other possession-themed movies. Gone are the back-bending, bone-breaking antics of demonic sounding girls. What emerges is a style that relies on facial cues and a malevolent tone of voice. He is truly not himself, with a more malicious and intense host taking over. Needless to say, past that excellent performance, the floorboards are starting to shake and creek a little more as the rest of the characters do not get the same treatment.
The plot frantically focuses on the now dead medium, Elise (Lin Shaye), as she helps Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), find out who this evil spirit inside Josh is, as well as the new demon haunting the family.
The problem with this is that this new film avoids evolving the family consisting of his wife, Renai (Rose Byrne) and their two sons Dalton and Foster (Ty Simpkins and Andrew Astor), in favor of the ancillary characters who do little but carry along the story in a one-dimensional format that begs the question, “Why are they even here?” A lot of the focus is on the posthumous Elise who is put on this pedestal as the hero of the movie while the family is restricted to worrying, moping and crying.
The foundation of the universe Wan and writer Leigh Whannell have tried to create is coming apart piece by piece the further from sensibility they get when even the overall darkness and presence of the previous’ baddies is diminished here. The plot eventually digs deep enough into their backgrounds to point where their existence is borderline comedy.
But all of this was acceptable for even a slight recommendation. The movie has the proper, terrifying aura with some clever, startling scares. One involves the masterful use of the children’s two-cans-attached-by-a-a-string-toy (come on, it’s the 21st century just get them cell phones). But all of that is uprooted as the rest of the house comes crumbling down on their little horror-world leaving them in the rubble of a once promising series.
During the climax of the movie the filmmakers took the route yet again of an action movie, wherein the heroin is chased by the killer throughout the house as they comically throw kitchen essentials at each other. Meanwhile, the movie also delves into a ‘Back to the Future’ road filled with time traveling alter dimensions that make zero sense in the fabric of the previous film. They tried too hard to make something new and fresh but instead created a confusing pot of mush that should’ve only been tried on a dare.
Necessities of any horror movie are the lasting scares embedded in your mind, as you lay awake in bed. What’s that over there? What made that noise? Why are my pants wet? ‘Insidious 2’ had the capability to have some horrifying residual effects, but instead left me horrifyingly confused and even a little tickled in the stomach. Here is a prime example of an original film driven by spontaneity and passion ruined by sequel needing to one-up itself, plunging into incoherence. I call it The ‘The Hangover’ Theorem. But at least Wan has ‘The Conjuring’ and Whannell the first ‘Insidious’. This can be the project they said they were high while doing.