Film Review: Insidious: Chapter 2 (M) (USA, 2013)

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The horror genre has always been filled with a lot of rubbish. Audiences will pay to see anything if they think it will scare them, regardless of the quality. This has led to the success of many sub-par horror films in recent years. However, there has been one director quietly championing the return of proper, terrifying horror. Back in 2004, Australian director James Wan gave us Saw; a solid thriller that does not receive the credit it deserves, and much more resembles David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) than the torture porn mess the series later descended into. Wan’s next hit was Insidious (2010), a terrifying horror opus that managed to be horrifying without ever resorting to blood and gore. It was the best kind of horror film; one that genuinely keeps you awake at night and still remains scary after repeat viewings. Wan hit it out of the park again in a big way earlier this year with his critical and commercial hit The Conjuring (2013). While not as scary as Insidious, the film contained chilling set-pieces and, more importantly, three dimensional characters. Wan has proven that he understands horror more than any other director currently working in the genre. Insidious made a huge profit, and we all know what that means: an unnecessary sequel!

Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up right where the first film left off. Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have had their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) returned to them from his journeys into the spirit world known as The Further. Unfortunately their psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) has been murdered and Josh is the prime suspect. The Lambert family temporarily moves in with Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), where the hauntings from the first film continue to plague them. Lorraine begins an investigation with Elise’s sidekicks (Angus Sampson and screenwriter Leigh Whannell), which leads them to a discovery that will uncover the origin of the evil spirit that has been following Josh since childhood.

The first aim of a horror film is to scare its audience, plain and simple. Insidious: Chapter 2 falls into the trap of substituting quick cuts and jump scares in the place of quiet, unsettling scares that really get under your skin. There is really nothing in this film that will be playing on your mind when you fall asleep the night after seeing it. The film lacks that one big terrifying set-piece that every great horror film has. In fact, (without resorting to spoilers) through the use of an unexplained and confusing time-travel device, Insidious: Chapter 2 actually manages to undermine the scariness of the most successful set-piece from the first film. The film also contains too many instances of unintended humour, with a few of the scares eliciting laughter rather than screams, including a cross-dressing child and a ridiculously accurate kettle throw.

The performances in the film are mostly fine. Wan’s current muse Patrick Wilson does quite well in the film’s most demanding role. Byrne has less of a presence here than in the original, and Ty Simpkins continues to show what a talented young actor he is in his brief screentime. In her increased role, Barbara Hershey is convincing, even though she sometimes comes across as ‘too old for this shit’. As they were the low point in the first film, it is a relief that Whannell and Sampson are much less annoying this time round.

It is interesting to note that the most successful scenes in the film are the flashback sequences set during Josh’s childhood, with younger actresses Jocelin Donahue and Lindsay Seim taking over the roles of Lorraine and Elise. Particularly effective is a short scene in which young Lorraine has an encounter with a ghost in an elevator in the hospital where she works. The scene is subtle and eerie and manages to be much creepier than much of the rest of the film. It is easy to see that the film would have likely been better had it all been set in this earlier timeline. However, the decision to dub Seim’s performance with the distinctive voice of Lin Shaye is an unnecessary and distracting addition. On a more positive note, Joseph Bishara’s score is again unsettling and somewhat demonic, as his brilliant scores forInsidious and The Conjuring also were.

The title of the film is quite apt; it really is just a continuation of the first film’s story. But, as we learnt from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, it’s not always a good idea to extend a story beyond what was originally intended. Wan would have been much better off taking the sequel in a different direction, as Insidious: Chapter 2 feels more like a lazy add-on to the end of the first film, minus its innovation and creativity. It is by no means a bad film; it’s just an unnecessary one. Wan has publicly said that he is finished with the horror genre for the foreseeable future. Hopefully this is not true, as it would be a shame to see him go out in such a mediocre way.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Runtime: 106 Minutes

Insidious: Chapter 2 is released nationally this Thursday.