James Wan and Leigh Whannell have made some memorable, terrifying films together, from their debut with 2004’s “Saw” to the first “Insidious” back in 2011. As good as they are at kicking off horror franchises, “Insidious” wasn’t the sort of film that demanded a sequel. Their attempt to continue the story is somewhat lethargic, with a scatterbrained screenplay that makes many of the same mistakes as the “Saw” sequels.
As one might guess from the title, “Insidious: Chapter 2” picks up right where the first one ended, with the Lambert family reunited after Josh (Patrick Wilson) plucked his son Dalton’s (Ty Simpkins) consciousness out of a foggy ghost dimension called The Further. Unfortunately, something has followed Josh back into the mortal realm, and with the family in danger, Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) struggle to save Josh before it’s too late.
“Insidious: Chapter 2” is commendable for refusing to backpedal on the cliffhanger from the first film. While it’s competently told and staged, there is never a sense of urgency to the film, never a sense that this story needs to be told. Whannell also wrote the first three “Saw” films, and it has become clear that his sequels look back as much as they look forward, which, in the case of “Insidious: Chapter 2,” resulted in a film that is filling in holes in the continuity that barely existed in the first place.
Much of “Insidious: Chapter 2” is spent detailing the backstory of the ghost who is trying to take over Josh’s body. While it’s all horrific, the killer is ultimately lifted right out of “Psycho.” Wan does a great job instilling each big scare sequence with plenty of atmosphere and dread, and there are one or two moments that are legitimately terrifying, but the film is way too enamored with the jump scare, a strategy that gets tired a lot quicker than Wan anticipated. After crafting the year’s best horror film, “The Conjuring,” earlier this summer, Wan seems to have used all of his best material on that film, and the only truly inspired moment here is the clever inversion of one of the first film’s most iconic images.
However, the biggest problem in “Insidious: Chapter 2” is its deeply unfocused approach to character. It is hard to say who the film’s protagonist is, since none of the characters have any discernable development or arcs. The actors have more or less perfected the science of looking terrified in the build-up to a jump scare, but no one gets to play anything we have not seen before.
Only Wilson gets to step outside of the box, playing a menacing note with a giddiness that the charismatic actor rarely brings to his work, and even his dialogue is laced with the same
unconvincing plasticity as the rest of the script.
If “Insidious: Chapter 2” could measure up to its predecessor, it would be easy to recommend. If it was particularly scary, or interesting or had any characters worth mentioning, then it would probably be worth going to see in theatres. Unfortunately, the film is a fairly shameless cash-in, expanding on a story that did not need it. Its unfocused, uninspired riff on the first film is not worth seeking out.
Horror aficianados will find something to like here, but they are better off waiting for the inevitable Netflix release than seeing this one on the big screen.