I don’t know about you guys (and girls), but I have a terrible memory, which is why I never like to head into the theater to see a sequel until I’ve brushed up on the film(s) that came before it. It’s been over two years now since Insidious hit theaters, and though I remember that I dug it for the most part, I must admit that I don’t remember much else about it. A side effect of watching and reviewing so many horror films every year, and not having enough brain space to keep them all stored in there, is what I chalk it up to.
Anyway. My plan was to revisit Insidious on Blu-ray this week before going to see the sequel, a plan that was derailed in the most glorious of fashion when I hopped onto Fandango to buy my ticket. It was at this point that I realized Insidious: Chapter 2 was not only opening a night early, at my local theater, but it was also being presented on a double bill with the first film, dubbed ‘The Ultimate Insidious Experience.’ Now I’ll admit that I was tempted for a few seconds to just wait until Friday and see the second film for $12, rather than spending an additional $8 to watch a movie I’ve already paid money to both see and own on home video, but the appeal of seeing both films, back to back, on the big screen, was simply too irresistible to…resist. (And for the record, I ended up getting the double feature tickets for only $15, since I’m a Regal Rewards member…score!).
So before I get into my thoughts on Insidious: Chapter 2, I just want to spend a few paragraphs talking about the first film, now that it’s once again fresh on my mind. So let’s do that.
From most people I’ve spoken with and most reviews I’ve read, the general consensus on Insidious seems to be that it’s a terrific movie that kinda sorta falls apart in the latter portions. That’s precisely how I felt about the movie the first time I saw it, and though I didn’t mind those latter portions this time around as much as I did back then, that’s still my general stance on the movie.
Up until the last half hour or so, Insidious is absolutely brilliant, both a terrific story and one of the most genuinely terrifying horror movies that has come out in the last several years. If there’s any fault to the movie at all it’s that it gets a tad bit hokey towards the end, with those goofy ghost hunters and that Darth Maul looking demon with the Freddy claws making the final half hour or so of the film far less gripping and frightening than all the build-up that came before it. Don’t get me wrong, I still find that last half hour to be fun, sort of like a virtual walk-through of a haunted attraction where ghosts and ghouls are popping up around every corner, it just felt like it belonged in a different movie, and the levity and fun broke the extreme tension and terror that had been building up for the majority of the proceedings.
Final thoughts? Insidious is one of the best horror films to come out in the last several years, a creepy and utterly enthralling tale that just doesn’t have all that great of a finish. But again, I actually didn’t mind the tonal shift while revisiting the film nearly as much as I did the first go around, and I must say that I still found myself as scared by the movie as I was back in 2011, even though I knew what was coming next. That moment where Dalton’s brother tells his mom he gets scared when Dalton walks around at night, even though we know that Dalton is in a coma…chills up my spine would be an understatement. And that’s just one of several truly terrifying moments in the film, this assessment coming from someone who doesn’t typically find himself scared by movies.
Now as much as I enjoyed Insidious, I admit I was a little worried going into Chapter 2, worried because I feel like I’ve kind of seen enough of this sort of movie in the last few years. Haunted house/possession movies seem to be all the rage within the genre at the moment, with movies like Paranormal Activity (and its many sequels) and most recently The Conjuring more than satisfying my appetite for creaky doors and spooky imagery. Especially considering The Conjuring just came out a couple months back, which was also directed by James Wan, I was highly worried and curious to see if he’d be able to keep things fresh and exciting, and prevent this latest film from sort of melding into the other movies he’s made in the last couple years.
Should I give you the good news or the bad news first? Let’s start with the good news. The good news is that Insidious: Chapter 2 is quite a breath of fresh air, when compared to the first installment and The Conjuring. The bad news? While it’s different, and while I applaud it for being different, I’m just not sure I dug it all that much.
After the box office success of Insidious, it was only natural that a sequel would soon thereafter be made. Rather than letting someone else take over and tell their own story, Wan and his writing partner Leigh Whannell instead decided to make the sequel themselves, and continue the story they presented us with back in 2011. In other words, Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up right where the first one left off…actually, let’s back up for a second on that. Because that’s kind of not true.
Insidious: Chapter 2 actually begins with a 10 minute prologue, set in 1986. In Insidious we learned that Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) had his own childhood troubles with astral projection and evil spirits, and the somewhat strange opening sequence in this one shows us what we were only told in that first film. We see Lin Shaye’s character, Elise Rainier, meeting the Lambert family for the first time, attempting to help Josh’s mother rid the evil from her son, and make him forget about his astral abilities. That’s all fine and well, as it serves as a nice little prequel, which expands upon the story from the first film.
The only problem with the opening prologue is that it’s of course a younger actress that was cast to play Elise, this being several decades prior to the events of the first film and all. In an incredibly odd decision that I can’t for the life of me understand, Wan decided to dub Lin Shaye’s voice over all of the young actress’ dialogue, which brings an unintentionally awkward and humorous vibe to the whole opening. Here we have a young girl with the voice of an old woman, and it just doesn’t fit at all. I’m not sure if the actress hired to play a young Elise just didn’t deliver her lines well or if the plan all along was to dub over her voice, but it’s a very strange decision that kicks the film off on a sour note. It’s almost as if Wan thought we’d be too stupid to realize it was supposed to be a younger version of the same character. Give us some credit, dude!
From there, we pick up directly after the events of Insidious, and follow along the Lambert family in what should be the happiest time of their lives. Their son has been returned to them and the evil is off their backs…what’s not to be happy about? Well, there is one pesky little problem. Remember how Josh killed Elise at the end of the first film, his body being controlled by that evil woman that haunted him in his childhood? Yeaaa, that doesn’t exactly go over well with the cops, or with his wife Renai. Nobody, aside from us, is sure of what happened to Elise, and as her two ghost hunting buddies try to figure it all out, Josh is now fully possessed by the evil spirit, George Lutz style. Of course, this poses a whole new problem for the ill-fated family, who are far from out of the woodwork.
Though I love the idea of Josh now being possessed and that being the main focal point of the sequel, which is really the only logical place to go with a sequel to Insidious, the problem is that far too much of the film’s run-time is actually not focused on Josh and his family at all. In somewhat messy fashion, the action jumps back and forth between Josh’s descent into madness and Elise’s goofy ghost hunting pals’ quest to try and contact their dead friend and figure out what the hell is going on, with most of the focus being placed on the latter, sequences that come off like a cheesy episode of “Ghost Hunters.”
The problem with this, for me personally? The ghost hunting characters were one of my least favorite aspects of the first film. I felt they brought a sense of humor and levity to the film that only hurt it in the end, coming into the action right when things were at their most dire and terrifying. It’d be like Regan masturbating with the cross in The Exorcist and then a goofy dude walking into the bedroom, tripping over his own feet and cracking jokes. It’s not that I mind levity in a horror film, but it just felt so ill-placed in Insidious, a film that was in my opinion on track to be one of the most frightening movies ever made.
Unfortunately, Insidious: Chapter 2 is more or less an expansion on all of the elements I didn’t really like about the first one. The ghost hunters are now main characters and even Lin Shaye’s character is brought back into the fold, all things that detract from the story of the Lambert family, which was what I felt was the strongest suit of the first film, and which I was hoping this one would really expand upon. Ultimately, it kind of doesn’t, and it almost feels like the story of the Lamberts plays second fiddle to far sillier things, like the bumbling ghost hunters being goofy and a weird attempt to create an origin story for one of the spirits from the first film.
Won’t spoil anything here, but a large focus of the movie is on the backstory of the creepy woman that’s been haunting Josh his whole life, the one in the black wedding dress that always seems to be holding that candle. I don’t know why Wan felt the need to give us a backstory on what was essentially just a creepy piece of imagery from the first film, but I just really wasn’t into it, and it again took away the focus from the Lambert family, and the patriarch’s struggle with demonic possession. I just can’t help but feel that was the more interesting story to be told here, and I quite frankly didn’t care to find out the origin story of the evil spirit. Sometimes, it’s better when things aren’t explained, as Rob Zombie showed us with his Halloween remake. I love to see how machines turn sheets of rubber into car tires on that “How It’s Made” show, but I don’t necessarily need to see the creation process of a creepy movie monster. Also kind of baffled as to why Wan felt the ghost hunters and Elise were such an important element from the first one, characters that are given far too much screen time in this one. Elise in particular is treated like the Ellen Ripley of the series, which results in nothing but eye rolling corniness.
That said, I do appreciate the attempt to go in a different direction with this sequel, and you can tell that Whannell and Wan are probably as tired of making the same type of movie as we are of seeing the same type of movie, at this point. I loved both Insidious and The Conjuring but Wan’s movies were beginning to all blend together, with similar themes and imagery on display, and I appreciate the fact that he went for broke and tried something new. In fact, I appreciate that more than I probably would’ve appreciated a simple regurgitation of the first film, so there’s that.
A few interesting ideas are presented throughout, particularly in the attempt to connect the two films together and even weave past events from Josh’s life into the two stories, another aspect of the film that I did appreciate. It’s very reminiscent of the Paranormal Activity sequels in that way, where prequel and sequel tales are converging together. Still trying to make sense of it all, and for that matter figure out if it even did make sense or not.
It was also a lot of fun to see Patrick Wilson get crazy and evil, at one point channeling Norman Bates and at another doing a hell of a good job auditioning for the role of Jack Torrance, in the Shining remake we all know will be headed our way before long. I just wish more of the focus was placed on his character, and more of an attempt was made to make another scary movie about his troubled family, rather than a fairly silly one with a few generic jump scares peppered throughout. Whereas Insidious was a scary movie with some silliness, Chapter 2 is a silly movie with some scares. That about sums it up, the best way I can.
I guess the bottom line is that whether or not any given person is going to enjoy Insidious: Chapter 2 is pretty much all dependent on how that person felt about the last half hour of the first one. If you dug the direction the film headed towards the end, then you’re probably going to dig this sequel, which captures that fun and hokey quality and stretches it out for an hour and a half. Is Chapter 2 as scary or as good as the first one? I don’t think you’ll find anyone making those claims. But it’s a decent attempt to try and make a sequel to a film that probably didn’t need one, a sequel that I didn’t personally care for but that I’m sure many will enjoy. And again, at least it brings something a little different to the table, I suppose. Must applaud Wan and company for that, if nothing else. Just feels like they didn’t have any great story to tell, and kind of rushed to get the movie made and done with.
In a recent interview, when asked about a possible Chapter 3, Wan revealed that he’s done with making horror movies, and though I’m pretty sure he’ll be back someday, I’m kind of feeling like it may be time for a break. He’ll next be directing Fast & Furious 7, and if Death Sentence showed us anything, it’s that he can make a kickass action movie as well as he can make a solid horror movie. I think he’s more than earned a little break from the genre, and I think a break will be the best thing for him, and for us as fans of his work. Let’s just hope he doesn’t stay true to this word, and that this inferior sequel isn’t truly his swan song…or should I say, Wan song!
….I just couldn’t resist.