Thursday, September 12, 2013

Insidious: Chapter 2

Back in 2011 I won a ticket to a free preview screening of Insidious. I enjoyed the writing/directing team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s first feature project together, Saw, but their follow-up Dead Silence was one big steaming pile of shit so I didn’t have high hopes for this, their next collaboration. Just being able to see a flick a full month in advance that I didn’t have to pay for was enough to motivate me to give it a shot (their Q&A session afterwards didn’t hurt either).

Thankfully I did because Insidious kicked my ass. It was suitably old school, didn’t showcase any graphic gore or violence and was intensely frightening. It was a classically made scary movie that worked despite its PG-13 rating and proved that buckets of blood weren’t necessary when you knew just what it takes to really creep audiences out. Although it wasn’t very original in the story department since it lifted entire ideas and sequences right out of Poltergeist, but it did so in a respectful way as sort of a love letter to the shockers of days past. Insidious made horror movies cool again the same way Scream did in the 90s.

Two years later I won tickets to a free preview screening of the sequel, Insidious: Chapter 2 (Q&A not included).
Picking up right where the first film ended, Renai (Rose Byrne) must find a way to prove that her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) has been possessed by a murderous evil spirit that has been haunting him since he was a child while dealing with a new malevolent ghostly apparition that has taken up residence in their home.

When I said that the original film was a fun take on Poltergeist, believe me when I say that this follow-up is a not-so-subtle rip-off of Poltergeist II: The Other Side with an ample side serving of The Shining. The problem is that it comes off as plagiarism due to desperation instead of fanboy homage. I will not go into the details as to why since it will give away quite a few spoilers.
There weren’t a whole lot of options left for writer Leigh Whannell to expand upon given that the twist finale in the first film was just that, a big twist to wring one final scare out of the material. The smart move would have been to create a whole new set of characters and situations, but instead he opted to continue the story. In the process he ended up backing himself in a corner by having most of the story be a repeat of the original film with long, pointless scenes of Renai walking around the house following strange noises and watching her baby’s toys go crazy all the while creeping on her (maybe) husband. Now that we as an audience know the rules established by the first installment these scenes don’t come off as scary at all. They serve as nothing but boring filler until the plot really gets moving in the last half.

The last half is where I actually began to enjoy the film. We start delving into the backstory of the spirit that has possessed Josh, revelations about The Further are shown to great effect (time as we know it doesn’t exist there making for some fun scenes) and the secondary characters thankfully step up to the foreground to take our attention away from the lame Renai/Josh plot. Whannell uses one of his tried and true plot devices that he mined so well in the Saw films, and that’s his fun way of backtracking to show the events of the first film in a different light. It engaged me and held my interest more than the first half did, especially after his clever way of working the awesome character of Elise back into the fold.
Unfortunately his lame and anticlimactic finale once again ruined all the goodwill it managed to generate and I was left unsatisfied and underwhelmed as I walked out of the theater.

Director James Wan certainly has the directing chops to wring good performances out of everyone despite Whannell’s sometimes clunky dialogue. He also knows how to set up a shot to maximize its creep factor as clearly evidenced in The Conjuring. The sad thing is most of the time his idea of what’s scary this time around is watching doors slowly creak open over and over and over again. I swear, nearly half of this movie is just that - doors slowly opening on their own. WTF dude?! Are you trying to ruin your career just as its beginning to take off? And stop with all the lamesauce boo scares! This isn’t a Paranormal Activity movie!
All the actors are fine in their parts once again. Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson do what they can with the trite material they have to work with, Barbara Hershey gets a hell of a lot more screen time and makes the most of it while investigating alongside Leigh Whannell and Angus Simpson’s entertaining ghostbuster troupe. The incomparable Lin Shaye gets a few of the best moments in the entire film (her introduction received applause from the audience) and new character Carl, played by Steve Coulter, is a nice stand in for her before she makes her appearance.  The children, played again by Ty Simpkins and Andrew Astor, are pushed aside for the most part with only Simpkins receiving a few moments to shine toward the end.

The last act works mostly due to the unexpected twists and turns the plot takes. Everything else not so much. Insidious: Chapter 2 is a lazy film that it plays it safe for the most part. It feels rushed and half assed, most likely due to the fact that the movie was pumped out so quickly after Wan finished filming The Conjuring. Events don’t make sense, it’s aimless for a good portion of its runtime and the payoff is lackluster in the extreme. And of course it’s set up for another sequel.
I expected so much more from this flick and I didn’t get it. It comes off as a simple cash in and nothing more. It had the potential to rock, but the ball was dropped somewhere along the way. As I said, there’s some good stuff in there, it’s just surrounded by a lot of useless crap. If there is another film I hope the direction hinted at in the final moments is the way the filmmakers decide to go. If not… they’re the insidious ones.

2 out of 5

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