Some sequels continue unfinished stories from where their predecessor left off, but others just use the name as a launching pad towards something completely different and usually far inferior. I’m looking at you Meatballs Part II. Happily, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell have gone the former route with the follow-up to their 2010 horror hit, Insidious. Unfortunately, that’s one of only a few things to be happy about here.
Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have just survived a ghostly ordeal, but when Josh returned from the other side where he found and rescued their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), he brought something evil back with him. Chapter 2 picks up in the minutes and days that follow as the Lamberts move to Josh’s mother’s (Barbara Hershey) house only to discover the horror is ongoing. Ghosts roam the halls, threats of violence hang in the air, and Josh is no longer the man he once was.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is for the people who actually liked the final minute of Insidious as opposed to seeing it as the only low-point in an otherwise fantastic horror film. There are fun moments to be had here, but they’re front-loaded and minimal when compared to the sloppy, cluttered, and frequently ineffective rest.
The joys of Insidious are numerous and, having just watched the film again the night before seeing the sequel, they’re also enduring. The film’s blend of jump scares and creepy-as-hell atmosphere pair beautifully with its sense of humor and steadily increasing insanity. By comparison the follow-up is a slow descent into lazy, uninteresting, and generic genre tropes.
There’s a sense of mystery inherent in supernatural horror because it’s a world beyond our comprehension. The first film understood that, and even though it offered a brief glimpse beyond the veil it did so with limited awareness. That changes here as Whannell’s script goes out of its way to have characters explaining what everything means, how the other side works, and what the ghosts want, and the detail is smothering. Worse, it’s often contradictory and occasionally flat-out dumb. The “rules” are constantly shifting, and rather than elevate suspense it simply feels lazily thrown together. Ghosts can punch! Ghosts can’t hurt you! We’re time traveling! Now we’re in a ghost’s memory!
Equally damaging is the film’s shift far too frequently away from the Lamberts themselves. They should be the “us” like they were in the first film, our stand-ins for normal people experiencing the abnormal and nightmarish. But too often the story shifts to follow side characters and new characters for too long. Time spent away from the family we’ve come to know may open the door to some laughs, but our concern and fear lessen because of it.
The film also manages to decrease the value of a couple returning characters. One is simply fed the script’s worst and most obvious dialogue, while the other is stripped of their nightmarish power through revelations ripped from a dozen or more serial killer films.
It’s not all bad news though as both Wan and Whannell still display elements of what makes much of the work so potent. The film is an attractive treat for the eyes and ears with an attention to color, camera movement and prepared piano work often missing in horror, and Whannell’s onscreen return alongside Angus Sampson remains a truly inspired and fun team-up even if they do take time away from the family.
And while the film doesn’t come close to approaching the levels of creeping terror of its predecessor it still manages at least two wonderfully tense scenes. The fact that both involve bed sheets is a lovely call-back to the homemade horrors of youth.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is better than many horror sequels, but that’s saying very little. It spoils nothing to say the movie sets up a third film that promises a slightly different direction, and while this one doesn’t exactly inspire confidence the promise of spooky possibility remains.
The Upside: A couple very creepy scenes; James Wan has a sharp and visually fun style; some laughs
The Downside: Overly busy and detailed; too much time spent away from characters we actually care about; no regard for anything resembling “rules” of the afterlife; Hey Lamberts! maybe get rid of those red light bulbs/lamp shades
On the Side: Insidious: Chapter 2 earned $20 million on its opening *day* yesterday, so yes, we will be seeing a Chapter 3.