Insidious: Chapter 2
2013 - 105 minutes
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter,
Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Ty Simpkins, Danielle Bisutti
It’s a tricky proposition for a sequel to attempt a large-scale expounding on its predecessor’s mythology. Common in burgeoning horror franchises, there’s a temptation to make your creation MEAN SOMETHING. “Insidious: Chapter 2” goes all in with this strategy, providing extremely mixed results. Whereas the original 2010 film was compact and effective in telling a creepy tale, the follow-up is just as concerned with universe-building as it is chilling the spine.
At the conclusion of the first film, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) traveled into “The Further” – a limbo-like world of tormented souls – to retrieve his son from the clutches of a demon. He returns to the world of the living triumphantly with son in tow, but seems a little…different. Also, the medium who guided him on his journey, Elise (Lin Shaye), has been mysteriously killed. The End. But wait, that’s only Chapter 1.
Chapter 2 actually begins with a prologue that takes us 30 years into the past, where a young Josh first encounters evil entities in his closet. An actress playing a young Elise with Lin Shaye’s oddly dubbed voice appears to help wipe Josh’s memories of the experience.
Back in the present, actions pick up immediately following the end of the first film with adult Josh and his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) taking their three young children and moving into his mother’s home. The cops are investigating Elise’s murder, but it’s a clumsy plotline that is wrapped up with a couple phone calls from the detective. Josh’s behavior grows increasingly pod-person-like, his deliberate chipper tone a sure sign something’s amiss. To top it off, Renai and her mother-in-law Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) start seeing a ghostly woman in white stalking the hallways.
Enlisting the help of Elise’s former cohorts – the comic relief duo of Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Carl (Steve Coulter), there are investigations of abandoned hospitals, abandoned houses and the like. Whannell’s script loses its way by going deeper into the past to explain current events rather than staying on task. He builds (an admittedly interesting) backstory that explains the mysterious old woman in black from the first film, but strangely it feels out of place within the paranormal happenings. The jokiness of Tucker and Specs doesn’t mesh well with the gloomy history and is forced to the point of tedium.
There are some fun, if ridiculous bits, including Carl’s method of communicating with spirits via lettered dice. Kind of like a mystical game of Boggle. But a piano that plays by itself several times, a baby walker that turns on by itself and doors that creak open by themselves grow a little tiring and aren’t ever really spooky.
Timelines are also as cloudy as the mist that rolls through The Further. The cool factor of the narrative circling back on itself isn’t enough to ease the suspension of disbelief. It’s also convenient that within The Further everywhere you need to go is within easy walking distance. The geography is confusing and the rules of the world aren’t always consistent.
James Wan has proven to be an effective horror director and he has a great command on where to put his camera and how to shoot suspense, but he’s hamstrung a bit here with a laborious script that doesn’t offer enough opportunities for serious jolts. I think it’s going to serve him well to get away from horror and I’m interested to see what he can do with the grandiose action of “Fast & Furious 7.” It is rather impressive that he had two competently helmed films released within a couple of months, though “The Conjuring” is the much better picture.
“Insidious: Chapter 2” closes with an obligatory tacked-on ending that leaves things open for
Chapter 3, but this story is quickly becoming a murky, unsustainable snooze.
© 2013 by Blake Crane