Eye For Film >> Movies >> Insidious Chapter 2 (2013) Film Review
Insidious Chapter 2
Reviewed by: David Graham
Saw director James Wan’s career seemed to have hit the skids after successive flops Dead Silence and Death Sentence, until low-budget marvel Insidious crept up on the Paranormal Activity series to deliver some of the most imaginative chills of recent years. Recent follow-up The Conjuring proved his skill with the scares was no fluke, so it’s sad to report that his second ‘Chapter’ (as if we need any more) in the Insidious saga is a rushed and muddled affair. There’s still plenty of knuckle-chewing tension and some genuine ingenuity in the set-ups, but everything from the aesthetic to the acting has taken a nosedive, resulting in a disappointing mess that’s not fit to lick the original’s hooves.
With benevolent medium Elise murdered and her husband Josh the apparent culprit, Renai is trying to move on from the madness that has surrounded her family but can’t shake the feeling that they’re still being haunted. Josh is overjoyed that Dalton has returned to them and just wants to move on, while his mother Lorraine is happy to have the family stay with her while they recover. Soon though she’s pulled into a tangential investigation into the phenomena that might just tie into her history with her own child, while Renai suspects Josh’s denial may be a cover for his own possession. It soon becomes clear that this time, it’s not just the children they have to worry about, as the evil force afflicting them has a more murderous agenda that endangers them all.
Having expressed a desire to distance himself from horror while trying to keep this sequel within the milieu of the original, Wan’s relatively inflated budget and increased experience have somehow resulted in a cheaper-looking film, with blurry digital photography and an unnecessary, ineffective switch to found footage at points that’s just distracting since it’s chopped up with the director’s own shots. The move to a more classically spooky and sprawling house – which belies Lorraine’s age and apparent lack of employment – is perhaps understandable but it doesn’t work as well as the sparse locations of before. Leigh Whannell’s script also feels compromised, with flashes of mind-bending brilliance sprinkled into a narrative that’s beyond derivative for the most part despite being so insanely scattershot.
Dropping the demonic angle in favour of a more clichéd serial killer back-story proves a major mistake – it scuppers all ambiguity and feels like a step back from the bedlam of the original. Fleshing out the veiled spectre only robs it of its power, especially when it’s revealed to be in thrall to a more powerful but thoroughly underwhelming force. There’s actually an intriguing dynamic going on there, echoing the family dysfunction at the heart of the under-rated The Pact, but it’s handled so clumsily as to merely dilute some of the more traditional thrills.
The possession scenes are also as weak here as they were in The Conjuring, with Patrick Wilson’s sub-Shining histrionics proving laughable at best, despite the impressive make-up job that does transform his normally appealing countenance into something unexpectedly sinister. With a finale that borders on psycho-thriller parody and Joseph Bisarra’s clanging score – a highlight before that paid tribute to clear inspiration Black Christmas - growing exponentially irritating, you’ll be thankful by the time this Chapter finally closes.
For all that though, there’s some real imagination on display in the way this sequel expands on the idea of ‘The Further’, folding in flashbacks to the previous flick in a fashion that not only feels justified but actually makes them doubly exciting again due to the shift in perspective. The non-linear tricksiness temporarily sets this sequel apart from the pack, and hints at what Whannell and Wan might have accomplished given more time to deliver. It’s especially brave and impressive given how problematic the otherworld was before: its design is still a little threadbare and obvious, but bending time and space makes it a much more intriguing prospect than previously, even if none of it makes a lick of sense.
Performances are pitched at a self-knowing pitch that the original tempered with restraint – there’s too much smugly winking humour, with Angus Sampson and Whannell’s comedy sidekicks returning too quickly and frequently to feel welcome. Wilson gets to have more fun and does his best, but the usually reliable Rose Byrne and genre stalwart Barbara Hershey struggle to infuse the dire dialogue with any kind of feeling, reduced to spending the duration either in tears or hysterics. Steve Coulter makes a poor stand-in for Lin Shaye’s ghost-buster, but it’s great to see House Of The Devil star Jocelin Donahue in some effective period scenes as a young Lorraine.
For hardcore fright fans, it’s still worth a watch just for the delicious sense of dread Wan can conjure from the most basic elements, but his restlessness with this kind of schtick screams off the screen. Easily pleased teens will have a ball and even doubters will be pleasantly surprised by some of the off-beat avenues Whannell and Wan explore, but for the most part this is a pale, uninspired shadow of its predecessor. It looks unlikely that Wan will return for more, and doubtful that anyone else would be able to make up for or continue from this jumbled mess: let’s hope Oren Peli doesn't further sully the original by flogging its corpse for a Paranormal Activity-style franchise.Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2013