Synopsis: The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Danielle Bisutti, Michael James Grise, Lindsay Seim, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell
Director: James Wan
Running Length: 105 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (5/10)
I always considered 2010’s Insidious a re-purposing of sorts of 1982’s Poltergeist. Both films had parallel themes and characters and you didn’t have to dig very deep to see these similarities. Unfortunately, this sequel also has a lot in common with Poltergeist II: The Other Side released in 1986…that is to say it’s not as scary, explains way more than it has to, and didn’t really need to be made in the first place.
I think what made Insidious so notable was how it approached its scares. By letting the audience do most of the work and not throwing cats at the camera to supply jump scares, director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell used the low-budget trappings to their advantage. Getting the most bang for their buck they eschewed fancy special effects for practical and effective frights that kept the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end long after the credits were done.
It’s disappointing then, that the three years between the two films was not really worth the wait. Though it’s unquestionably a cut above the majority of horror films released this year (You’re Next and The Purge had their moments but fell short for this reviewer) it falls below the bar set by July’s The Conjuring…which is interesting because it was also directed by Wan. I had hopes that since Wan and Whannell took three years to deliver the next chapter in the story that there would be something of greater substance and similar restraint like its predecessor.
Sadly, where the first movie kept its cards close to its chest, Chapter 2 is an open book. Too much time is taken to explain simply everything that’s happening and you feel like shouting at the screen “We didn’t really need to know that!” at the various characters that suddenly feel the need to unload their hidden secrets. My biggest let-down in mysteries/thrillers tends to be the ending where loose ends are tied up and motives are clarified and this movie is just a series of reveals and explanations.
I’d be telling a fib if I said that Wan doesn’t cook up some fairly spooky sequences that gave me a brief case of the willies. Though the presence of the Lipstick-Face Man from #1 is sadly missed, Wan has provided a handful of creepy characters that continue to haunt Josh (Patrick Wilson, Prometheus) and Renai (Rose Byrne, The Internship) Lambert and their family.
Picking up seconds after the first one ended the movie follows the Lambert’s as they take up residence with Grandma (Barbara Hershey) in her foreboding wood varnished house. It’s not long before the baby alarms are once again signaling a malevolent presence and apparitions start to play games with the Lambert’s. It’s hard to reveal anything more without spoiling not only the ending to the first movie and also ruining some mediocre twists this one has waiting for you.
What I liked about the movie was that it made an effort to continue this story and explore the mythology behind the haunting with a snappy prologue focusing on Josh as a child. Whannell also gets nice marks for finding a way to bring elements of the first film back in a most clever fashion. The trouble with that, though, is that ultimately this movie will always be tied to the first film and probably wouldn’t work if judged on its own merits as a stand-alone film. By continuing the story the way they did, Wan and Whannell have painted themselves into a corner and even a last ditch effort to make future installments a possibility doesn’t exactly ring true…or seem very interesting.
In the first film the Lambert’s struggle was focused almost solely in their house. This film opens up the playing field and so we have too many scenes away from the action…or in places that don’t make sense if you are following closely. Hershey for instance has a long-ish escapade with returning comedic relief Whannell and Angus Sampson as they do some recon work in several locations that they seem to have no trouble gaining access to. I had to laugh when not only were they able to break into the abandoned hospital where Hershey used to work but that all of the hospital records were miraculously still there.
Wan has been quoted recently as saying that this film would be his swan song to the horror genre and maybe that’s a good thing. Clearly talented, perhaps it was too much to hope that Wan would be able to deliver two superior horror films in the span of one year. While this isn’t a total write-off and is worth seeing if you are a fan of the first film, it winds up being a let-down in part because for all the new ground this one tries to break it doesn’t get under the skin like the original did.