The sequel to 2010’s Insidious is 2013’s Insidious: Chapter 2, a direct continuation of the first picture and the second film in what is now a series of three thanks to 2015’s Insidious: Chapter 3. The latter is a prequel. James Wan helms Insidious: Chapter 2, carrying on the tricks, bumps and thumps he built in the first narrative.
And just as Insidious made virtually no attempt at innovation, Insidious: Chapter 2 carries on in the same bent with more jump scares and more battering and clattering from the Joseph Bishara score. The conspicuous horns of Wan’s The Conjuring sound like a veritable symphony in contrast to what’s on here, which amounts to a lot of percussive drubbing and some string grinding.
Josh (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) have learned of the death of psychic friend Elise (Lin Shaye) and the fur starts to fly. Elise helped the family get their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) back from the Further in the first movie and now the clan has moved into grandma’s house. Grandma is Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) and she’s got some stories of her own.
Unfortunately, strange events start happening once again and Renai sees signs of insanity in her husband. Recollections lay the groundwork, showing a young Josh (Garrett Ryan) going through events similar to what inundated his lad in Insidious. A younger Elise (Lindsay Seim) was brought in to help younger Josh, but the poor family is just screwed.
There is a lot of plot in Insidious: Chapter 2 and the flick can be hard to follow. The trouble is the trivial payoff, which is to say that the Leigh Whannell screenplay doesn’t exactly reward the fine art of paying attention. There are eerie things here and there and there are the right conveniences, with the appearance of a murderer creating just the right measure of evil intentions.
Everything is clichéd. Subtlety is thrown out the window. As with Insidious, Wan tries to locate the halfway point between the unconcealed scares of Saw and the shrewder thrills of Oren Peli’s original Paranormal Activity. Peli again has a producer credit, by the way, so the ideas are certainly in the water.
Rather than a slight, “watch the corners of the frame” haunting, the spirits of Insidious: Chapter 2 move with all the refinement of a dropped piano. There are attempts at flashback horror, which requires the movie’s interpretation of the 1980s, and there are silly gimmicks like Carl (Steve Coulter) and his dice. Yes, there’s a younger Carl (Hank Harris).
The good news is found in Wilson’s performance, which really does seem fun. His menace is more alarming than any of what goes bang in the night and the way he terrorizes himself and his family is at least halfway interesting. His presence gives Insidious: Chapter 2 a leg up on its predecessor in that it plays out homeland horror to greater effect.
Byrne is up for the task and she’s the suffering sort. The best moment in the film involves her reaction after Wilson’s Josh doesn’t remember the few notes she plonks out from a song she wrote for him. Oh, the torment. That, friends, is domestic terror.
For the most part, this is monotonous stuff. The Further is a neat concept, but Wan and Whannell aren’t overly interested in investing in it. The bulk of Insidious: Chapter 2 circumvents questions and focuses more on what’s garish and abrupt, which consequently renders its 105 or so minutes into a dull paste.
Honest filmgoers know that nothing in the Insidious world reinvents the horror wheel. It doesn’t have to. But where it stumbles as a picture and as a series, at least in terms of what this reviewer has seen so far, is in the most basic of areas. There’s little to nothing beyond the clichés, beyond the brash bangs, crashes and jump scares. Insidious: Chapter 2 banks on reflexes, not psychology, and that’s a shame.