2011’s Insidious was a runaway success. Besides grossing over $54 million dollars on its tiny budget of $1.5M, it also served as a welcome return to form for the horror genre, using good old-fashioned lighting, makeup, and sounds for the spooks over excessive gore and CGI tricks. Earlier this summer, James Wan struck gold once again with The Conjuring, a pretty much perfect haunted house thriller that scared the pants off movie-goers everywhere. Where to go from there? The next sequel to the Fast & Furious franchise, clearly. But first, it’s back to the Lambert family, who as you may remember from the end of Insidious aren’t exactly in the clear as far as those pesky hauntings go.
The action picks up directly after the close of the first film. Medium Elise (Lin Shaye) has been strangled by possessed Lambert patriarch Josh (Patrick Wilson) who still isn’t acting quite like himself. While police sort out the details of the murder, the family moves into Josh’s mother’s (Barbara Hershey) house, which is just as old, big, and creaky as the Lamberts’ was. Almost immediately, doors start slamming, pianos start playing by themselves, little Dalton (Ty Simpkins) once again starts seeing dead people, and long-suffering mom Renai (Rose Byrne) suffers some more.
Elise is no longer around to help investigate the supernatural paranoia, but guess who is? Yup, bumbling ghost hunters Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) who, along with Elise’s former associate Carl (Steve Coulter) work with Grandma to uncover the mystery of what exactly followed Josh back from the astral realm known as The Further.
“Guys, please! Just leave me alone and let me rest in peace. I don’t want to hear any more of your damn jokes.”
While James Wan earned the title of horror master in a relatively short period of time, it is well-deserved. He knows how to tell, and more importantly, show, a good scary story. Though this film has its problems (which we’ll get to in a moment) there are still some decent chills that make it worth at least one watch.
“NO MORE VIOLINS!”
Patrick Wilson gets a chance to ham it up and runs with it. At times it’s unintentionally (or is it intentional?) funny, but most of the time he’s genuinely creepy and pretty damn frightening. It brought to mind his fantastic performance in 2005’s Hard Candy.
The rest of the cast do a fine job as well, though Rose Byrne doesn’t get to do much more than react.
But she is pretty fabulous at reacting.
Lin Shaye and Lindsay Seim as old and young Elsie, respectively, are great though the dubbing of Shaye’s voice over Seim is a little strange. It’s nice to see Barbara Hershey back in an expanded role and character actor Steve Coulter is a welcome addition.
You know those haunted graveyard attractions that pop up in town around Halloween? The ones where you walk through strobe-lit sets while eerie music plays and people dressed in costumes jump out and scare you? I love those. Even though you know it’s fake, you still get that wonderful sense of dread and rush of adrenaline. That’s how I felt watching the first Insidious. However seeing Chapter 2 was very much like going back to a haunted graveyard you’ve already been to. You still kind of psych yourself out but it’s just not the same because you already know what’s coming and when. Wan may have been able to better get away with this if The Conjuring (which almost feels like it could be a sequel to Insidious) hadn’t been so fresh in our minds having just been released a couple short months ago.
There are even more jump scares, fakeouts, and louder violins-on-roids in Chapter 2 and besides being less chilling the second time around since we’ve already seen it all before, it also doesn’t work as well because there is no lead-up to the frights. No build. No unsettling quiet. It’s just BOOM!BOOM!!BOOM! right away.
The first Insidious worked as a standalone film. It’s apparent, given its budget, that it wasn’t originally intended to be a chapter one of a longer story. While I give credit to Wan and co-writer Leigh Whannell for attempting to expand upon and intertwine the events of this film to the original’s, it’s all just a little too much and gets pretty convoluted. Especially once the time-traveling kicks in. (If ever a movie did not need to add in time-traveling, this is the one.)
What made the first Insidious so effective was its simplicity. In many people’s opinions (including mine), the third act focusing on The Further stumbled a bit because it pulled back the curtain and over-explained things that didn’t require explaining. Here, much of the focus is on The Further itself. Though it serves as a nice excuse to rework Elsie back into the mix, there is just way too much of it.
Though if Beetlejuice showed up, I’d be totally down.
On top of that, there’s a lengthy sequence in an abandoned mental hospital because? Abandoned mental hospitals are creepy of course! They’re especially creepy at night when it’s dark. But abandoned mental hospitals can also be helpful for uncovering clues and secrets when the doors are left unlocked and all the medical records are left in filing cabinets for anyone to access.
Wan and Whannel often seem to struggle to get out of backed-into corners in the attempt to squeeze a second full-length feature out of an already completed story. They frequently do this by recalling past horror classics to assist with the narrative, mainly Psycho and The Shining. While it can be argued that the first film was itself derivative of films like Poltergeist and The Exorcist, I would disagree because in that case it was more of homage. Here it just feels like lazy storytelling.
I wasn’t going to assign a last beer, however one thing bugged me more than anything else in the movie (even more than the time-traveling) and is still bothering me days later. I don’t want to give anything away for those of you that haven’t yet seen it (though the scene in question happened in the first Insidious), so I’m just going to leave you with one word: Fingerprints. Could somebody who has seen this movie please explain this to me?
Insidious: Chapter 2 was an unnecessary and disappointing sequel to a modern horror classic. (And guess what? It appears there’s going to be a Chapter 3 as well.) There are a few decent spooks but it’s nothing we haven’t already seen before. Fans of the first Insidious will no doubt want to see it though, and for that I’d recommend a Sunday matinee or just waiting for Netflix/Redbox.
Take a Drink: every time you hear the violins.
Take a Drink: every time the baby walker starts making noise and flashing on its own.
Take a Drink: every time you wonder why they don’t just throw out that damn baby walker.
Take a Drink: whenever Specs and Tucker’s “comic relief” falls flat.
Take a Drink: every time you see Lin Shaye and can’t help but think of Magda from There’s Something About Mary (same actress in case you didn’t realize it).
Take a Shot: at every instance of time travel. You’re gonna need it.