Sunday, September 22, 2013

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Director: James Wan
Notable Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the first “Insidious.”

In what some may call ‘record time,’ “Insidious Chapter 2” hit theaters only a couple months after James Wan’s previous horror outing “The Conjuring.” While both “The Conjuring” and the first “Insidious” represent the true talents of the modern horror icon of directing, my skepticism for “Insidious Chapter 2” still ran strong. The first film was a story that wrapped up nicely and while I enjoyed it immensely, the writing for the film weakened in the second act with the introduction of The Further and astral projection. Assuming that the sequel would run further with The Further, it was hard for me to jump behind this sequel with as much enthusiasm as I would for any other James Wan film.

My skepticism was mostly justified as I meandered my way out of the theater. “Insidious Chapter 2” is quite frankly an extension of the first film providing a film that is altogether a sequel, prequel, and an alternate version to the first “Insidious.” Confused by this statement? That’s alright because I’m not even quite sure what the hell was going on by the end with all of the little new elements they added. We’ll to that a little bit later though.

To start things off, I have to admit that I had some solid fun with “Insidious Chapter 2.” This time around director Wan and writer Whannell decide to push the fantastical elements even further. When we last left the Lambert family the son was brought back from his demonic holding and the family was together again…until our cliff hanger hinting that perhaps the dad, Josh (played by the every diverse Patrick Wilson) had been replaced by another insidious ghost. This concept gives a great leaping point for “Insidious Chapter 2” to explore. What happens when the ghosts make it back from The Further? This allowsWilson to get his Jack Torrence on as the family sees him slowly change into something devious and sinister in front of their eyes. Strong performances from Rose Byrne and Wilson carry most of the familial portions of the film (she has a scared face that really sells many of the sillier moments) and Wan is once again the highlight of making this damn film tick – exploiting every possible jump scare to maximum effect including an inventive and relatively inspired use of the kids’ tin can and string phone set for a great moment. When “Insidious Chapter 2” wants to fright it does so handedly even getting a young girl to actually start crying in my theatrical screening.

"Shhh...don't tell anyone about what's in the next paragraph."
Yet, like the first “Insidious,” the writing is where the film tends to crumble. With the sequel, it crumbles much faster and much deeper. Wan and Whannell add more humor to the mix increasing the screen time of our bumbling duo ghost hunters and they increasingly explore the realm of The Further. The film opens with a flashback of the father’s childhood and his first “exorcism” by a rather oddly dubbed young Elise (voiced by Lin Shaye from the first film) and begins to indicate that The Further does much more than house the wandering spirits of pissed off dead folk. This prequel portion then leads us down a detective plot progression as our ghost hunters, new found clairvoyant, and the grandmother try to figure out who the evil witch is and how to force her ass back to The Further. This leads to a handful of sequences of ‘found footage’ moments as they investigate a haunted old house that’s intertwined with Patrick Wilson being creepy. The flow of the film stutters throughout most of this middle portion and struggles to find a balance of what the focus should be. To make matter even stranger (and harder to justify), “Insidious Chapter 2” even throws in some time travel elements here to link the prequel portion, unexplained events in the first film, and where this film wants to go altogether. This is where this sequel lost me. While The Further has tons of potential for exploration, they create a massive device for an essentially unending source of plot holes for any other films in the franchise (which they have already announced a third film at the time of this review). This ridiculous plot device allows our characters to enter The Further, change past events, visit other ghosts memories, and even destroy memories all in the name of creating a franchise of open possibilities…and asinine plot holes to get utterly lost in.

Always hide when your dad goes "The Shining" on you.
While I appreciate the ‘new ground’ that this sequel ambitiously covers, the film comes off as horrendously uneven overall. The scares, although quite effective, seem to be added in just for the sake of adding in jump scares, the duel plot of ghost hunting and Josh’s Jack Torrance collapse fail to flow with the ease Wan is known for providing, and the last act gets so fantastical with The Further (even having characters from the future become reasons for events in the first film) that it had the audience laughing at times. “Insidious Chapter 2” might not deter my love for James Wan, this is handedly his weakest film to date and one that doesn’t even touch the intensity and cleverness of the first film. It’s a fun sequel and it has its moments, but it’s a massive disappointment overall.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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