It may not be the best horror film out there, but I really enjoy the first Insidious. In fact, it’s probably one of my favorite horrors of the last few years. There’s a wonderful old-school vibe to it, the family is likeable, the ghouls are creepy, and there’s a nice surprise at the end—all things that make it a fun ride. So when I heard that Chapter 2 was on its way, I was intrigued, but, as I am with most sequels, very concerned that the makers would screw it up. As the Paranormal Activity series proves, sequels are not always a good idea.
Unplanned sequels—especially unplanned horror sequels—are always on slippery slopes. They have to be done in ways that don’t devalue their predecessors. Otherwise, creators run the risk of ruining both films. Now I don’t think Chapter 2 ruins Insidious, but the scares seem cheaper, the characters are more blah, and the plot is a crazy mess of ideas. It’s like the creators couldn’t decide which direction to go, so they went everywhere. After seeing director James Wan’s abrupt rise with his well-crafted summer horror, The Conjuring, it’s a shame to see him dip back down a little with this lackluster sequel.
Synopsis: “The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: Though it’s not as good as the original, this isn’t a bad film. It retains that old- school vibe I love, like the very dramatic flash of the title with loud, eerie music. It has lots of nice scares—a few of them done more effectively than the first film, perhaps. Wan is very good at building tension and letting us bite our nails just long enough before delivering a jumpy, in-your-face scare complete with aforementioned disturbing music. He’s especially good when moments after scares like these, he quickly takes another punch. These one-two punches are particularly effective when he places them in the beginning or middle of the film. Most other horrors save scares like these for the big finale, but Wan likes to utilize them throughout. It’s the same style I noticed with The Conjuring: he barely gives you time to catch your breath, which raises the tension. Give the man credit—it’s clever. Also, this is not exactly a run-of-the-mill sequel. In some ways, perhaps, it’s more of the same, but the plot expands into something more. There’s more of a mystery element, we meet more ghouls of “The Further,” and we get to explore a few characters’ pasts, like Patrick Wilson’s character, Josh. I appreciate the effort to introduce something new while going back and tying up loose ends from the previous movie. Favorite scene: Remember that one-two scary punch I mentioned? There’s one scene that sticks out to me as the best of these. It’s toward the beginning/middle of the film, and, as usual, it involves Josh’s wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), in the house by herself. It’s a scene that builds tension masterfully and then explodes in a flurry of action. Not fun for Renai, but fun for us.
The Bad: There is way too much going on in this film. Really, I do appreciate the effort to introduce new things, but Chapter 2 goes too far. The added sleuthing aspect takes a few characters to not one, but two creepy abandoned buildings. Because a haunted house, a possessed character, and one creepy abandoned building apparently aren’t enough. And, yes, we do get to see more of The Further, but it’s cheapened when…well, I’ll just say it. SEMI-SPOILERS. BE WARNED. There’s kind of an aspect of…time travel. I don’t exactly understand how it comes into play, and there aren’t any explanations offered up either. It just happens. I understand why they use it, but I feel like it makes things hokey and kind of ruins some of the fun of the first film. I like horror films where some of the horrors remain unexplained. Sure, a little info for clarity is good, but isn’t the unexplained a million times scarier? I feel like being spoon-fed every last detail ruins the fun. In the midst of all this silly sleuthing and time travel, much of what the first film built is lost. We aren’t as invested in the characters because they haven’t been developed any further. The original film—a family-centered, Poltergeist-esque horror—is weighed down by a Scooby Doo mystery with a weird sci-fi twist. It all feels disjointed. And there may be more scares, but there are so many that they begin to feel corny. Chapter 2 is even funny at times when it’s not supposed to be. Never a good sign for a horror film. Least favorite scene: Instead of lamenting a scene, I’m going to lament a character. I missed Josh. Wilson made him a very likeable guy in the first film, but he’s not himself this time around—a fact that is vital to the plot, but it still made me sad.
To Sum It Up: Insidious: Chapter 2 expands the world it created in the first film, but this achievement is a double-edged sword. The new film unintentionally bruises the appeal of the first one by sacrificing character development and by generally trying too hard to top its predecessor. It still has plenty of clever scares, an interesting story, and an element of humor that make it fairly fun, but as a sequel to a film I thoroughly enjoy, it’s a disappointment.
My Grade: B-