Even though Halloween is over a month away, director James Wan (Saw) doesn’t seem to mind scaring audiences into fits of terror with his latest film “Insidious Chapter 2.” His sequel to the 2010 hit reunites Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne for another chilling supernatural story. This time around, however, Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell (Saw) get too bogged down in their own mythology and backstory to create a coherent tale. “Insidious Chapter 2” certainly goes bump in the night, but much like a nightmare, the memory quickly fades away once daylight breaks.
While “Insidious Chapter 2” is still entertaining as a stand-alone movie, it is definitely a sequel that is very much an extension of the first. Whereas anyone can pick up with the newest “Die Hard” or “Fast and Furious” release, anyone looking to take away more from “Insidious Chapter 2” than just a series of edge of your seat moments should watch the original before braving the second chapter.
The film opens in the year 1986, and brings to life much of the backstory mentioned in the original. We immediately meet younger versions of Josh (Garrett Ryan), his mother Lorraine (Jocelin Donahue), and the psychic medium Elise (Lindsay Seim).
Even as a young child, Josh has been a dream walker, and has had the ability to leave his body whenever asleep and enter the fantastical world known as “The Further.” “The Further’s” ominous name is an apt title for the spirit world, because it is a place filled with dead spirits, devilish ghouls, and demons of the wickedest degree. It is also a land where living humans can get lost if they aren’t careful.
“The Further” is definitely a murky, convoluted place, and so too is “Insidious Chapter 2” as a whole. As we fade from the mid-80s and pick up where the events of the first film left off, the story only gets more confusing.
Fans of the first film already know that Elaine has been murdered, and that an evil spirit has possessed Josh’s body, but in “Chapter 2” Josh’s wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and mother (Barbara Hershey) are confronted with an even bigger problem. They have to figure out the mystery behind a gruesome murderer responsible for the deaths of at least 15 young women.
Wan certainly has a knack for making even the most docile devices — a baby carriage and a pair of tin-can phones — scary. He’s also great at putting in plenty of subliminal, jarring shots of frightening monsters whenever there is a dull moment. But as for a horror movie that sticks with an audience, “Insidious Chapter 2” comes up short.
Yes, there are some genuinely scary moments. The entire abandoned hospital segment, with Wan’s creative reverse camcorder framing, is definitely memorable, but Wan and Whannell settle for a script that is simply too big for their own good. A murderer needs to be uncovered, a spirit must be exorcised, an entire alternate universe has to be explained, and old friends must find closure. This list of side-plots could each act as its own movie, but are all smooshed together in “Insidious Chapter 2”.
In trying to pack so many supernatural themes into one movie, Wan never gives his living actors enough screen time. Byrne, especially, spends most of the movie either crying or screaming. After watching her dramatic performance in the original, it was very disappointing to see the talented actress take the back seat in the sequel.
James Wan pretty much had the entire horror genre in a strangle hold this past summer with “The Conjuring.” Shot for less than $20 million, the Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson shiver- fest went on to make over $250 million at the box office. Summer, however, is over. Schools are back in session, the smell of Coppertone Plus has finally faded, and the 90-degree weather is starting to cool off.
Unfortunately, all of the summer fun that “The Conjuring” packed is devoid in “Insidious Chapter 2.” Both films are tremendously scary, but only “The Conjuring” manages to produce more than just surface level scares.
By David Morris