Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up immediately after its predecessor’s conclusion, telling the tale of the Lambert family as they continue to be terrorized by malevolent spirits. Where the first film succeeded in its creepy scares and navigation of a spirit-driven world, the latest feels tired and lifeless. The sequel still centers on Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne), trying to live normally after the death of Elise, the woman who guided Josh into the “Further” to save his son. After his return, though, he’s the main suspect, and there’s the question of just how normal Josh is. Has something changed? Did he bring something back with him? The questions get resolved rather quickly in the film, and that showcases just how much of a stretch this film makes narratively to justify its existence.
James Wan is a tremendously talented horror director. With 2011’s Insidious and this summer’s terrific The Conjuring, he’s demonstrated a knack for old-fashioned storytelling, getting scares from set-ups and builds rather than jumps. Here though, despite some impressive camerawork and elaborate scares, he relies too heavily on jump scares and simplistic notions of what scares an audience. Yes, music is creepy, but a piano playing over and over again doesn’t come across as that scary when we know you won’t show anything. The pay-off for that piano is important and done well, but the scares and build-up surrounding that feel hokey and conventional. Wan knows conventions, but he can maneuver around them.
Going into the film’s plot involves spoilers, so I won’t do too much of it. But there’s a pretty direct narrative influence from Psycho that makes a somewhat interesting element feel forced and unoriginal. It’s a shame, since I could sense through most of the feature that Wan wants to admire old horror through new works. While that came across much stronger in The Conjuring, his story here lends itself to hokeyness, with dialogue sometimes being excruciatingly expository and painful. Wilson seems to be having a blast with balancing a tricky character, but Byrne is simply there to look pretty since her character’s given nothing to work with. I like Wan, and I like the concept of Insidious; it’s not a story I needed expansion upon, particularly one as nonsensical and overblown as this one’s final half hour. And with the promise of a third film, I can’t say I’m all that interested.
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)