Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Horror,Mystery,Thrillers Movie Review of ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ (2013)

Movie Review of ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ (2013)

Disclaimer: This review will not spoil Insidious: Chapter 2, but it’s recommended that you do not read ahead unless you’ve seen the first Insidious, as the surprising ending of the first film leads directly into Chapter 2 and will be discussed.

It’s doubtful that 2011’s Insidious was designed with a franchise in mind, but the micro-budgeted horror picture was a rousing success, grossing almost $100 million from a $1.5 million budget, and receiving surprising critical acclaim. Because it’s easy to get filthy rich from such investments, we now have Insidious: Chapter 2, a direct sequel to its predecessor which brings back practically all of the original cast and crew. Whereas the first movie was fundamentally a take on the Poltergeist storyline, Chapter 2 is closer to The Shining. With a change in focus, this sequel feels like less of a continuation of the original Insidious and more like a follow-up to the original movie’s last act. Luckily, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell have assembled an overall solid film in Chapter 2, even if it’s not perfect. It is a tad overwritten, but the film definitely delivers where it counts.

With paranormal medium Elise (Lin Shaye) dead after being strangled by the malevolent spirit that inhabits the body of Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), the police begin an investigation, discounting all claims that something supernatural is involved. To allow for things to calm down, the family move in with Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), who’s hospitable towards Josh, his wife Renai (Rose Byrne), and kids Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor). However, Renai is wary of the situation, curious about sudden changes in her husband, and terrified by supernatural occurrences around the house. Lorraine recruits paranormal investigators Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who team up with Elise’s old friend Carl (Steve Coulter) to get to the bottom of the situation. Meanwhile, the real soul of Josh is stuck in the spiritual realm of The Further.

Insidious was a fairly simple picture, with screenwriter Leigh Whannell putting a fresh spin on the haunted house genre, purposely avoiding the most hoary clichés to create something distinctive. It paid off, but Whannell and Wan only scratched the surface of the movie’s mythology, leaving a lot of baggage for a sequel to deal with. Unfortunately, Chapter 2 attempts to do too much, working to build an extensive backstory behind the old woman in the first flick, and spending more time in The Further. The material is admittedly interesting, but it only occasionally translates to a chilling viewing experience, often neglecting the type of primal thrills that worked so well in the original film. It’s not a deal-killing decision, but the end result pales in comparison to its predecessor, with expository dialogue rendering the storytelling oddly leaden. Fortunately, however, the proceedings eventually click into gear and Wan settles into a satisfying groove, leading to plenty of momentum as well as a finale that raises the pulse, silly moments notwithstanding.

The original film’s sense of pervasive dread was lightened by a somewhat campy final third which turned the experience into a fun old-fashioned fright flick, but Chapter 2 shows minimal interest in this type of material, only providing a smattering of gallows humour courtesy of Tucker and Specs. It’s amazing how much Wan is able to do with so little. Even though Chapter 2‘s budget has marginally increased since the original flick, it was produced for a scant $5 million, minuscule by Hollywood standards. There is no denying that Wan is a master of building a sense of unease, and his talents are visible throughout the movie. Even despite the uneven pacing, this is a highly atmospheric movie, and it’s easy to fall under Wan’s spell. It’s the director’s use of careful camera angles, shadows, eerie images and above all the perfectly spine-chilling sound design which gives Insidious: Chapter 2 a great deal of power. Achieving true cinematic terror in 2013’s cynical movie-going climate is nigh on impossible, yet Wan continues to demonstrate his ability to do so, and seemingly with little effort.

Patrick Wilson was given an ostensibly impossible task, asked to play the role of a demon within a human body. It would be easy to overplay the character, but Wilson strikes the perfect balance, being subtle in his body language that’s just a little bit off, and being suitably scary when he needs to be. Furthermore, Wilson had to play Josh as well, and admirably pulls that off too, although we don’t see much of the real Josh during the movie. Byrne, meanwhile, is expectedly strong, but it’s Barbara Hershey who fundamentally becomes the heroine of the movie, with her role of Josh’s mother having been beefed up considerably. Fortunately, Hershey does a fine job, and she’s served well by the other returning players. Whannell and Sampson are delightful, and Lin Shaye returns here in a handful of scenes to nice effect.

Wan scored another mega-hit earlier in 2013, with The Conjuring attracting the type of acclaim, hype and box office dollars that most horror movies can only dream of accomplishing. It’s a shame that Insidious: Chapter 2 is a noticeable step down in quality, but it’s still more creative than the glossy, PG-13 spook films that less skilful filmmakers inundate us with. When it works, it’s an intriguing continuation of the strong first movie, and it leaves room wide open for a Chapter 3 to follow. And honestly, another sequel would be enticing, as Insidious is more of a traditional horror series rather than found footage (Paranormal Activity, which shares Insidious producer Oren Peli) or torture porn (Saw, which was ironically spearheaded by Wan). Plus, Insidious: Chapter 2 is far better than either of the Poltergeist sequels.

6.8/10

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