Well, I suppose that the beginning of October is as good a time as any to take an in-depth look at Insidious: Chapter 2, although at this point it might as well be a retrospective. With the original Insidious (2011) still firmly maintaining its position in my top horror movie superstar tag-team, expectations were understandably high for the sequel. ‘Prolific’ might be a good word to describe James Wan’s career in 2013, with The Conjuring having been released in July and now Insidious 2 not even a few weeks later. The former, by all accounts being generally decent, may be the superior of the two films, as Wan takes another earnest stab at his hugely popular franchise.
Wan teams up once again with Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, who reprise their roles as the world’s unluckiest suburbanites Josh Lambert and Renai Lambert, respectively. As far as the acting is concerned, we’ve got quite a case of “second verse- same as the first.” If you saw either Insidious or The Conjuring, not a whole lot can really be added apart from the fact that there’s just more of the old “white people acting scared.” I will say that Wilson takes a slightly transformative role in Chapter 2, in that he evolves from the somewhat soft spoken, mild mannered suburban father to a bloodthirsty killer on account of his being possessed- which isn’t really as big a spoiler as it sounds. Strangely, the transformation doesn’t really become him, especially as far as his physique is concerned, and a lot of his possessed posturing and subdued antagonism comes across as more humorous than frightening; granted, it’s possible that Wan might have wanted to play this whole sequence for laughs in order to aid in a little juxtaposition, but it seems like such a jarring shift of the established tone to be of any real value.
The thing about Insidious: Chapter 2 is that I’m not entirely sure it needs to exist at all. I was under the impression that The Conjuring was essentially the spiritual successor to Insidious’s legacy, especially because Insidious had a strong ending the wrapped protagonist’s respective stories. Clever folks might remember that the very end of Insidious had a certain amount of ambiguity to it, which added mightily to the unnerving quality of the narrative and the film’s overall effectiveness. The audience was free to come to their own conclusions as to what became of the individual characters, although the overarching plot of that film had decidedly been wrapped up. Insidious 2, therefore, stumbles at the first hurdle by necessarily having to contrive a new reason for the story to continue. Furthermore, and this is really just the due to the nature of the genre rather than an attempt to discredit the writing, the characters simply aren’t interesting or dynamic enough to cary two distinct movies, and I think the sequel suffers for it.
The other main issue I have with the film is the overall concept of the antagonist. Here’s a screenwriting master class for you: the antagonist always remains more mysterious and dangerous the less you see of it. That, in large part, is what made the original Insidious so successful. Throughout the film, it wasn’t entirely clear what kind of hell-spawn was pursuing the protagonist, and indeed, all the audience really sees of the antagonist are two extremely brief glimpses- both of which are obscured. You see, the audience will always, always be more successful at scaring itself than the filmmaker will ever hope to be, for the simple reason that no one knows what scares the viewer better than the viewer himself. Now, in Insidious 2, instead of allowing the audience to imagine what satanic malevolence has clawed its way out of the blackest recesses of the stygian pit to devour every mortal soul, the writer explains precisely who and what the baddie is, while Wan fills the screen with copious lingering shots of the aforementioned baddie, to allay any vestige of interest or engagement we may have managed to retain.
So, with an uninteresting antagonist and a contrived story, I guess the real question that we have to ask of a horror movie is “does it scare me?” Sadly, the answer is no. I really wanted Insidious 2 to be great, and while it has it’s moments here and there, I kind of feel like James Wan has lost his way a little. Wan’s directorial style, while usually very effective, is nothing if not formulaic. As a fan of nearly all of his movies to date, including Saw, Dead Silence (controversially), Insidious, and The Conjuring, I’ve certainly started to pick up some patters. I suppose that when you get right down to it, Insidious 2 is just kind of predictable, which is really a first for Wan.
As far as horror movies go, Wan remains a master of the craft, despite Insidious 2 being a bit of a miss. However, I, personally speaking, will be waiting with baited breath for Wan’s next film… Fast & Furious 7. I kid you not. FAST & FURIOUS 7. What a time to be alive.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.