James Wan's unnecessary sequel to his chilling 2011 hit offers more of the same, with diminished returns
Insidious: Chapter 2 FilmDistrict
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 46 minutes
September 13, 2013
(out of four)
Early on in Insidious: Chapter 2, Rose Byrne's character shouts, "It's still happening!" And in just those three words, she has essentially described the entire movie. Here we are again, exactly where we were before, and all the stuff that was happening before is still basically happening.
Remember Insidious? Yeah, it's like that, only more so. Remember all the strange noises around the house? Yep, those are still there. Remember all the unexplained disturbances and the paranormal investigators and that purgatory-like place? More of all that, too! The specifics may be different, but the specifics are also kind of meaningless.
In fairness, James Wan's 2011 sleeper hit ended with a twisty tease that made this sequel not only inevitable but perfectly sensible, and Chapter 2 is a direct continuation. But as such, it also makes this a 209-minute story, all told. And this story quite frankly isn't worth three-and-a-half hours of anyone's time. What made Insidious work was the way Wan turned a standard-issue haunted-house prototype into a carnival funhouse of a movie, buoyed by its low-budget minimalism and its keen sense of artifice.
In other words, it wasn't the story. But here we are again, picking up right as things are starting to run out of gas. The film is centered primarily around Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his penchant for coming into contact with otherworldly forces, dating back to his childhood. When Chapter 2 opens, he has just returned from "The Further," where he rescued his son, but returns as a suspect in the murder of the medium Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), and seemingly possessed by someone or something.
His wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), meanwhile, spends the movie rotating through a cycle of random emotional states. She spends a lot of time just being scared of things (an all-too-common crutch for female characters in this type of movie), then suspecting her husband is a killer, then believing him when he says he's not, then suspecting him again, then believing that he's literally not himself, and finally being scared of more stuff. It's a disservice to both the character and the actress.
Wan, who launched the Saw franchise only to take a back seat creatively after the first entry, has said that he wanted to retain more control over the direction an Insidous franchise would take this time around. But in returning to the director's chair, he more or less just repeats himself. To be honest, I had no idea Wan even directed this sequel until the opening credits - I just assumed he'd passed those duties on.
It's a disappointing effort from him, especially considering he's just coming off the success of the best film of his career, this summer's The Conjuring. Throughout Chapter 2, we can still spot much of what makes Wan's work distinctive - notably the carefully suggestive set decoration. There's one particularly nice moment when Wan and cinematographer follow Renai down the main hallway and we catch a brief glimpse of an ominous figure sitting in the living room, positioned on the far right of the frame before being obscured by the wall as we move closer to the front door. Those are the kinds of chilling moments we get when Wan is at his best, but they're few and far between here.
This time, his tone seems jumbled and his ideas never seem to go anywhere. This may be a direct, linear conclusion to the original film, but it seems all the human and supernatural interest made it into the first one, and what we get here is just a lackluster B-side. Despite continuing a story already set in motion, Insidious: Chapter 2 already feels like the franchise is Parnormal Activity-ing itself. More than any other genre, horror - even really good horror - gets cheapened by franchise branding. I'm always bothered when people refuse to take horror seriously, and then I remember about the inevitable dozen sequels to every moderately good or moderately successful horror movie that gets made. Insidious was a good film (and a nice change of pace in the spring of '11) that, third-act kicker notwithstanding, never really needed to be turned into an ongoing series. But it took just one sequel to turn it into just another cheap horror brand.