Just months after the release of The Conjuring, James Wan returns to the horror genre again – and evidently for the last time for a while – with Insidious Chapter 2. A sprawling, idiosyncratic film that attempts to recontextualize the events of its predecessor, Wan’s sequel is ambitious but shortsighted, creepy but cartoonish, but utterly watchable. While perhaps unworthy as a companion piece to what many revere as a modern classic, Insidious Chapter 2’s weird inventiveness almost makes up for its frequent incompetence.
Picking up right where the last film ended, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) rescues his son from the Further, a dreamlike portal where spirits dwell, only to discover that family friend Elise (Lin Shaye) unfortunately died in the process. But his efforts to rebuild his life with wife Renai (Rose Byrne) hit a snag after they begin experiencing unusual visions not unlike those they experienced in the past. Without Elise to guide them, Josh and Renai make a desperate attempt to regain normalcy, only to discover that something dwelling within Josh is determined to make that impossible. Before long, husband and wife are pitted against one another for the fate not only of their marriage, but their very lives, with only Dalton (Ty Simpkins), Elise’s former colleague, there to assist them.
Although there’s a strong Back to the Future vibe that runs throughout the entirety of Insidious: Chapter 2, given its re-framing of events through a leapfrogging timeline, the comparison that seemed fairest to me was ‘The Frighteners meets Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge.’ The opening of the film jumps back to when Josh was a boy and Elise hypnotized him into forgetting about his paranormal ties, and from there it weaves in and out of present day, reality and the spirit world to reveal how and why certain ominous events came to pass. There’s something sort of ingenious about the way that Wan and his longtime collaborator Leigh Whannel stitch together a new story and the previous one, particularly after a third-act journey back to the Further essentially provide a reverse-angle perspective on much of what has transpired before.
At the same time, the film seems hopelessly confused about its own mythology. There appear to be not one but two different evil spirits invading the home and bodies of the Lambert family, but most of their efforts to intimidate and injure their living counterparts seem pointless. Moreover, the victims of these different spirits seem to also enjoy haunting the family, which certainly makes for more scary moments, but they cease to leave an impact when you realize that’s all they are – punctuation to keep the audience on edge in between developments of actual relevance.
More generally speaking, the Lambert house appears to have been designed by the same architect who built the hedge maze in The Shining – there are few occasions when it seems like any of the characters in this film are anywhere near the others. Precisely how Renai is able to be terrified in one room and no one is able to hear it in any of the others is never explained, for example. But then again, this is also the type of horror film where no one seems to ever talk to one another about what occurred to them – such as Renai being assaulted by a creepy woman in her living room and left in a crumple on the floor. When Josh finds her later, that seems like at least one of the first things she might tell him, but that conversation never seems to happen. And after Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) finds out some particularly important information about what might be going on, she never thinks to make a phone call – much less on a cell phone – to inform anyone else of imminent danger.
Overall, Insidious: Chapter 2 is a movie full of set pieces where little thought was given to exactly how they would stick together. The idea of Josh slowly cracking up in the real world and trying to maintain his resolve in the spirit one is quite frankly spectacularly fascinating; but the movie never secure the simplest foundational nuts and bolts that keep its story from shaking loose once Wan and Whannel are done rattling its mythology to the core. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite of The Conjuring – unpredictable where the other was consistent, overcomplicated where it was streamlined. Ultimately more of an intriguing goof or quirky addendum to the first film than a bona fide sequel or even just basically scary movie, Insidious: Chapter 2 is provocative without being investing, and compelling without being convincing – in other words, a sequel more born out of the first chapter’s success than its authors truly having more to say.
Film Score: 2.5/5