Review: ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ is Frighteningly Bland

By September 13, 2013
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With films like Saw and Insidious, director James Wan has proven talented at crafting send ups to old-school horror flicks and establishing his own signature method of storytelling. But though that skill is apparent in Insidious: Chapter 2, the film fails to break new ground and proves to be frustratingly disappointing.

The first Insidious (2010) centers on a couple, Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne), who are determined to rescue their son from a hellish dimension known as “The Further.” It looked as though much of the cast was doomed by the conclusion. Surely that was the case for Elise (Lin Shayne), who was – spoiler alert – found dead. But the character is incorporated into Insidious: Chapter 2 via a paralleling plot that takes place a generation earlier. The film ends with a pretty major cliff-hanger that prompted talk of a follow-up early on.

In the highly anticipated followup, which picks up a few days after the events of the first installment, Josh and Renai have moved into Josh’s mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) house in the hopes of avoiding any further conflict with the spirit world. But shortly after they arrive, it becomes clear that an evil visitor is upon them once again.

The pair enlist the help of a medium (Steve Coulter), who essentially takes the place of Elise as their clairvoyant consultant. Back on the scene are Specs (screenwriter Leigh Whannel) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who also work to uncover the mysterious goings on.

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Wan famously managed to make Insidious for just $1.5 million, so its global box office intake of $97 million made it one of the most profitable movies of 2011. The film later became a popular Netflix streaming choice.

In between then and now, Wan released the critically acclaimed The Conjuring, which has pulled in $135 million since its July release. The fact that the 70s-style horror flick (which also stars Wilson) tested through the roof during early screenings may account for why FilmDistrict fast-tracked this sequel. But the somewhat speedy turnaround may have hurt the project in the long run.

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It’s pretty clear from the beginning that Insidious: Chapter 2 doesn’t live up to the original.

Firstly, the opening sequence – a signature element of horror films – is lackluster. In a flashback, we see Josh’s childhood encounters with the demonic world and the attempts of his mother and Elise to help him. Not exactly compelling, since nothing much happens. From there, you’ll find yourself waiting and hoping it’ll get better. I’m still waiting.

The fact that Josh and Renai move back to the home in which Josh first encountered demonic forces as a boy makes little sense, making the premise seem like an attempt to squeeze out another story. Much of the flick is like a hokey haunted house ride that you’re forced to endure for 103 minutes. Many of the scares are those we’ve seen countless times before. A piano plays by itself, strange noises can be heard over a baby monitor, and rocking horses move on their own.

Another arguable mistake is the decision to have Josh be possessed for much of the film – effectively turning one of the most charismatic actors in the film into someone we don’t care to watch. Furthermore, with Insidious having been released three years ago, it’s difficult to accept that only a few days or so have gone by prior to when the sequel picks up.

The film’s highlight is being given a glimpse into what exactly happened when Josh ventured into “The Further” to rescue his son. It also fits into the low-budget chiller category audiences often gravitate towards (made up of movies like The Possession, Sinister, Mama, etc) and manages to be a mainstream horror film with an indie spirit that audiences who love James Wan’s work may enjoy.

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Justine Browning
Justine is a film and culture reporter whose work has appeared in USA Today, Indie Wire and The Huffington Post. She currently serves as an on-camera correspondent for MovieWeb and Cine Movie TV.