Insidious Story Continues Down a Familiar Path
Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) has saved his son. Journeying into the realm between life and death, he has reunited eldest Dalton (Ty Simpkins) with his soul, saving him from a demonic presence that wanted to use the child as a vessel to return to the land of the living. All is good. All is how it should be. All is right. Or is it?
Picking up right where the 2011 film, a somewhat surprising box office smash, left off, Insidious: Chapter 2 begins with medium Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) dead, the Lambert family forced to flee their home and take up residence at Josh’s mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) place, ghost hunters Carl (Steve Coulter) and Specs (Leigh Whannell) looking for answers and bedraggled wife Renai (Rose Byrne) terrified their family’s haunting hasn’t come to an end. Good vibes are quickly undercut when Grand Pianos mysteriously begin to play by themselves, Dalton has visions of a ghostly woman in white (Danielle Bisutti) and Josh begins muttering to himself, having conversations with others who by all accounts do not exist.
I like how things begin. Returning director James Wan, working to craft the story with screenwriter and frequent collaborator Whannell (Saw), doesn’t waste any time to acclimate the audience to what happened in the first film, doesn’t do a lot to fill in the blanks for those who might be coming to the party late. Other than a brief flashback showing Josh, Lorraine and Elise in 1986, the movie hits the ground running, not caring if people fully comprehend what is going on or why. The tension is thus palpable, almost overwhelming, an aura of unease permeating the initial opening act that is deliciously uncomforting.
But I was not a fan of Insidious, didn’t care for its last half when the narrative went off the deep end and the whole movie became a nonsensical bit of horror loony tunes that shifted tone at the drop of the hat and had a terrible time maintaining the beautifully realized tension constructed during the opening hour. As such, I went into this sequel with trepidation, and as much as I applauded Wan for finally pulling it all together and crafting a great piece of sinister ghostly entertainment with The Conjuring, based on his previous cinematic track record I had no illusions the guy was about to go two-for-two.
The good news? While still silly, while not always as tonally consistent as I wanted it would be, Wan and Whannell have learned from their mistakes and keep things closer to the vest this time around, refusing to let their eccentricities get the better of them this time around. They allow the unknown to remain an eerie unknown, the suspense of the situation slowly building without any extra oomph or unnecessary trickery. While there are a couple of jump scares, for the most part that kind of stuff is kept to a refreshing minimum, all of which help the sequel maintain an air of tension that’s laudable.
Yet the story and scenario make as little sense now as they ever did during that first go-around, and if anything the filmmakers crib from even more classic source material with this second chapter than they ever did with the first one, the whole thing building to an all-pervasive atmosphere of been there-done that that’s frustrating. Elements of The Shining, Evil Dead, The Haunting, The Legend of Hell House, Ghostbusters, “Supernatural,” “The X-Files” and even, get this, Back to the Future Part II permeate the sequel down to its marrow, making all that happens nothing remotely approaching a surprise no matter how well staged much of this undeniably proves to be.
Don’t get me wrong. The cast is universally strong, even Whannell and Coulter toning it down some giving actual performances this time instead of acting like comic caricatures escaped from a Syfy Channel meets Comedy Central “Ghost Hunters” parody. Wilson, in particular, does yeoman’s work, revealing the dueling components of Josh’s psyche with tenacious ferocity. He’s terrific, the movie almost worthy of recommending on the strength of his performance alone.
But that recommendation would come with a ton of caveats. This second chapter of Insidious is pretty dumb, and the way it keeps looping back on itself, flipping through time and space willy-nilly with no care if anything makes a lick of sense, gets a bit obnoxious as the film moves towards its climax. A lot of the stuff with Lorraine, Carl and Specs is pretty laughable, while many of the genre tropes Wan and Whannell are trafficking in aren’t anywhere close to being fresh or original. While there’s lot to admire and respect about this sequel, there just aren’t enough of them for me to say buying a ticket is worth of anyone’s time or money.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)