Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) / Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for scary images, some language, and thematic elements
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Review published September 15, 2013
Just a warning that, while I will not overtly spoil Insidious: Chapter 2 in the course of review, I'm going to assume that you will have already seen Insidious. If you have not, and intend to, you'd probably do well to skip the following review until you have.
When the first Insidious was officially released in 2011, it generated quite the buzz. It was a low-budget film ($1.5 million) that raked in over 50 times that at the U.S. box office ($97 million), and even more on home video. Naturally, horror movie success automatically means a sequel is bound to result, and though the budget is now over 3 times that of the first film, at $5 million, it's still miniscule by today's standards.
Most of that modest increase in budget probably can be attributed to keeping the cast and crew together, as the film, directed by the prolific James Wan (The Conjuring, Death Sentence) once again, looks to be about the same as the original in terms of its overall shoestring-budget look and low-grade special effects. The scares are similar, with lots of instant close-ups of scary looking faces that appear out of nowhere, accompanied by loud, shrill musical chords and random clatter, in an effort to jolt you out of your seat.
There's nothing new or novel in Insidious 2, but then, there wasn't in the previous entry. The entire film is scribe Leigh Whannell (Dead Silence, Saw) setting up the alley oops in the script for director Wan to repeatedly take to the proverbial hoop, though the duo aren't trying to score so much as scare, which they will or won't to various degrees, depending on how skittish you are to jack-in-the-box build-ups capped off with eardrum-shattering noises, old people's weathered faces, and snarling ghosts with wide eyes and weird make-up jobs.
One would imagine that maintaining the low budget look works in its favor, as the film starts off pretty much right where we left off in Insidious, with the death of the paranormal medium, Elise (Shaye, Surf School), presumably at the hands of a malevolent spirit inhabiting the body of family father Josh Lambert (Wilson, Prometheus). Though his wife Renai (Byrne, The Internship) thinks she sees the evidence in some digital snapshots taken at the time, Josh denies any involvement, and assures her that he's going to take whatever steps are necessary to keep things safe and normal for everyone from then on, as the family moves in to his childhood home where Josh's mother, Lorraine (Hershey, Black Swan), resides. Nevertheless, the piano plays a familiar tune on its own, and someone, or something, keeps fiddling with the baby any time it is left alone. To be rid of the haunting of the present, they're going to have to go back, with the help of new spirit wrangler Carl (Coulter, Flight), to Josh's long-forgotten past, or else no one in the Lambert family, including him, will have much of a future -- at least not in the realm of the living.
If the first film had been mostly a regurgitation of the Poltergeist plot line, Insidious: Chapter 2 will likely remind many viewers of the basic plot of The Shining. Much of the film involves whether Josh is actually evil incarnate, and if so, when he is going to finally snap and try to come after his family. However, the style of the film, with its dim lighting in large houses, and an insular feel, as if the entire cast of characters exist entirely in their own peculiar dimension that's separate from the "real world", is in perfect keeping with the first Wan outing.
Though Insidious: Chapter 2 is just another case of perpetual shock scares and auditory stimuli covering over a lack of story and characters to care about, for those who enjoyed the first film and are looking for more of the same, it delivers exactly what you expect and nothing more. It's a flimsy premise delivered with a mode that is jam-packed with cinematic kitsch (this film has a malevolent mother spirit deliver threats so campy that it's hard to not think of Faye Dunaway's portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.) Even at its best, it is not so much a movie as it is a 100-minute series of staple genre distractions, as Wan does everything he can from a directorial standpoint to command attention to the weird thing that's happening on the screen, mostly because nothing in the script by Whannell, who reprises his supporting acting turn as spook-buster Specs, sets the story up to be anything more than set ups for occasional jump-scares.
If all you're looking for is a reason to scream at the top of your lungs with your friends, whether you really are scared or not (some people just want an excuse to scream, it seems), perhaps it will fit the bill. If you're looking for something more than stock scenes of people you don't really care about looking behind closed doors and what's behind them in mirrors every few minutes, skip the Insidious series entirely, because it's a one-trick pony all the way.
-- Followed by Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)
©2013 Vince Leo