Insidious: Chapter 2
Much like it’s predecessor, the film has some effective scares but you’ve seen it all before
James Wan films are a bit like buses, nothing for ages and then along come two at the same time. His first film, Saw, was a moderate success in 2004, but it was another three years before his next two films - Dead Silence and Death Sentence - opened and neither troubled the box office. Jump to 2010 and we get Insidious, which, despite stealing quite liberally from Poltergeist, was another moderate success (pulling in just under $100million off a budget of only $1.5million). Now, three years later, we have two more hitting our screens: first up, The Conjuring, which opened to surprisingly good box office in August, and now Insidious: Chapter 2.
That subtitle is important because the second chapter of Insidious is very much that, kicking off exactly where the previous film ended. It also assumes you’re familiar with the events from the first film as there are numerous references to it - so it’s a good idea to watch it before settling down for the sequel. Some cinema chains have been showing the two films as a double bill and this is probably the best way to see them, as it really does play as one story. Although quite why these film are called ‘Insidious’ is a mystery as there’s nothing insidious about them, especially the sequel which just gets right down to the business of delivering the shocks.
The film centres once again on the Lambert family headed up by father Josh, played by Patrick Wilson who also starred in The Conjuring, and mother Renai, played by Rose Byrne who was seen most recently in I’ll Give It A Year. They have two children, one of whom, Dalton, played by Ty Simpkins, has the ability to astral project. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to astral project too far, leaving our world for a netherworld that the film refers to as the ‘Further’. Dalton’s intrusion into this spirit limbo allows various unpleasant entities to enter our world, creating problems for the Lambert's, no matter how many times they move house.
There is a solid supporting cast, including Barbara Hershey (no stranger to this sort of spirit invasion herself after starring in 1982‘s The Entity) as Josh’s mother and Lin Shaye as the medium Elise. The film was written by Wan’s regular collaborator Leigh Whannell, who also appears in the film as Specs. There’s no doubt that both Wan and Whannel love the horror genre and they have played an active part in the recent wave of movies based on loud bangs and scares rather than excessive gore. Insidious: Chapter 2 is certainly another entry in that current trend and, if anything, it ups the amount of scares when compared to the first film.
However, in amongst all the stolen ideas there are some interesting plot twists, although a familiarity with the first film will make them more effective and enjoyable.
The problem is that the writer and director’s familiarity with the genre works against them to a degree because both the Insidious films ‘borrow’ too heavily from other horror classics. As a result, anyone who is a horror fan is going to find both films very derivative, so much so in places that you feel Whannel should have shared the writing credit! Given the family dynamic, the home setting and the fact that one of the children disappears into a ghost world, the most obvious inspiration is Poltergeist - both films lift ideas and entire beats from the Spielberg/Hooper classic. But the filmmakers don’t stop there with very obvious lifts from The Woman in Black, The Shining and The Haunting to name but a few.
That’s not to say that the film is without its merits; Insidious: Chapter 2, as is the case with all of Wan’s films, is well made, and, as he proved with The Conjuring, Wan is capable of delivering some effective scares when he wants to. The problem is that because the whole tone of the film is based around these scares, you quickly become familiar with the tempo and begin to anticipate them. The film also makes the mistake of over-explaining itself, which lessens the fear factor. Our imaginations are always worse than anything that the filmmakers can show us, so once we understand a threat, it often becomes a lot less scary. This is compounded by the fact that despite being shot in a Scope ratio, the use of digital cameras is very obvious at times; this gives the movie a slightly 'video' look.
However, in amongst all the stolen ideas there are some interesting plot twists, although a familiarity with the first film will make them more effective and enjoyable. Indeed, the film opens with a flashback to an event that is referred to in the first film (but never actually shown) and later shows events from the original again but this time from a completely different perspective. If the scenes that bridge the two films were originally planned out that way then that shows a degree of confidence from the filmmakers - but even if it is just a clever idea after the fact, then it certainly ties the two films together very effectively.
Insidious: Chapter 2 isn’t going to win any awards for originality but it is well made, competently acted and has a few interesting plot twists. Ultimately it succeeds in what it sets out to do: create some decent scares and throw in a few laughs along the way, but given how much crossover there is with the first film, the two together would probably make a better double bill on home video.
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