Release Date: September 13th, 2013 (UK and US)
Genre: Horror; Thriller
Starring: Rose Bryne, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins
The second instalment in James Wan’s scary adventure opens with a game of ‘Hot and Cold’, where Participant A uses temperature to gauge Participant B’s closeness to a particular destination. Only, it should be rechristened ‘Manufacturing Scares’ because that’s exactly what the game is implemented for. In fact, the moment is indicative of Insidious: Chapter 2 as a whole, a film that lacks invention and overly relies on horror commonalities. Before the final credits roll we watch as characters partake in a Ouija circle, find a ghostly videotape and visit an abandoned hospital. (Guess what? It’s haunted). Discounting the occasional splurge of genuinely creep imagery, Chapter 2 is much the same as the first chapter but without the benefit of a new-born shine.
After a brief venture down memory lane — the origin of Josh Lambert’s (Patrick Wilson) uncanny ability is relayed — we realign with the present where the Lambert household isn’t exactly settled. The grizzly death of paranormal investigator Elise (Lin Shaye) has caused a stir, and Renai’s (Rose Bryne) subsequent questioning by a police detective in regards to her husband Josh’s potential involvement in Elise’s demise is also inducing internal strain; he seems different, evidently cockier. Her beau’s strange demeanour ain’t even the worst of it: the evil spirits are back and once again preying on Renai’s family.
If retreading old ground was an Olympic sport, Insidious: Chapter 2 would be blaring out the US national anthem with a gold medal hanging not-so-proudly around its camera lens. The title sequence is a carbon copy of what came before; aided by a congregation of piercing strings, blood red letters boom on screen and form the once foreboding INSIDIOUS inscription. It is sort of scary but the impact is far lesser here than was felt at the beginning of the premier output. Said string instrumental is part of the same score as before and, again, might have been quite unsettling if not for its overuse.
The familiarities aren’t simply local though, they arrive from afar. Chapter 2 has a number of its hands in a number of stagnant terror traits — James Wan meshes together haunted houses, desolate hospitals, alarming photographs and more in a hodgepodge horror pie that more resembles eight undercooked slices than a well-done whole. We’ve seen it all before, just one film ago in fact, and Chapter 2 struggles to stand upright on its own as a result.
The various elements don’t converse fluently either. If the first half is often predictable, the second is occasionally undecipherable. It’s a mess, really. Leigh Whannell’s screenplay devolves into a plethora of timelines and various existences. The writer dusts off his acting chops when a singular focus might have served proceedings better. Older and younger selves meet, but they don’t really. (Or do they?) Jocelin Donahue joins in at this point but her previous genre achievements fail to rub off this time around. Indeed, as far as haunted house epidemics go, The House of the Devil is in another league. Some effort is made to tie up loose ends, it’s just a shame that these loose ends end up in a tangle. As far as the film’s predictability goes, we tend to know the plan before the characters do: “If only Elise were here to help us.” If only. Watch out for two tin cans and a string as well. Something spooky oughta happen there.
Given the film carries a tone that pangs with dishevelled nostalgia, it’s probably to nobody’s surprise that some of the acting is camp. Patrick Wilson plays Josh Lambert but with a noticeable sprinkle of added aplomb to his voice, so much so that you’d think something was wrong with the father/husband. Despite his attempt to be eerie and serious, Wilson’s allure edges ever closer to humorous as the film progresses. It’s not meant to be funny, but it is. Rose Byrne is always reliable and provides a solid anchor for the uninspired narrative. Ty Simpkins also has more to offer than first time around, though admittedly he did spent the previous instalment almost entirely in a coma. Leigh Whannell and Angus Simpson’s comedic duo is a completely jarring inclusion. Unlike Wilson’s turn as Josh, the pair are supposed to funny but spend their time on screen spouting cringe-worthy material.
Though infrequent, James Wan does unveil some of the well-furnished horror magic that he has deftly applied in the past. Much like in The Conjuring, Wan finds prosperity in some seriously disturbing imagery. Hairs raise as menacing-eyed, widely-grinning faces flash before us for only a split second, but it’s enough to leave a dent in our previously unscathed fright-barometer. Moments such as this one catch us off-guard, however unlike the inferior jump scares that consume the rest of Chapter 2, these images are themselves intrinsically ominous and therefore contextually justified. The film actually bares a well-oiled look and one of its better moments comes near the beginning: a slow pan from pitch black into a moody, dark room. Lugging a plot that can barely hold itself together without succumbing to old ways and characters that don’t really command our attention, Wan’s dexterity when it comes to imagery is at least one spooky success.
Insidious: Chapter 2 spends an hour playing with second-hand toys before it takes to doodling with permanent markers and resultant mess-making. Aside from teaching us not to have babies (they’re a real nuisance when ghouls attack) and treating us to one or two authentic frights by way of scary visuals, Wan’s outing is purposeless.
At one point Josh says, “All you have to do is ignore them and they’ll go away”. I’ve stopped listening.
Images copyright (©): FilmDistrict, Stage 6 Films