James Wan’s horror film “The Conjuring” (which came out earlier this year) is probably the best horror film to come out in recent years. Sure, the story isn’t wholly original. In fact it included just about all of the cliché horror movie elements; the family in the haunted house, the ghost hunters, a possessed person, psychics, creepy dummies, etc. However, Wan handled them in a way that not only felt fresh but also cohesive, everything for the most part made sense. In this regard, his latest “Insidious Chapter 2” (a sequel to his own 2010 film) could be looked at as a minor step back.
The movie picks up where the first one left off, revolving around the Lambert family. Father Josh (Patrick Wilson), mother Renai (Rose Byrne) along with their two young boys and Josh’s mother played by Barbara Hershey. You see, Josh’s oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) possesses the ability to go out of his body and walk around in a creepy alternate spiritual dimension, an ability that Josh himself had when he was a kid. But if you’re not careful sometimes an evil spirit from that nether world can latch onto you and hold you hostage, while it raises hell in the real world. That’s what happened to Dalton in the first movie and Josh had to go into the spirit world and get him out. He succeeded of course but he also managed to bring something back with him and well, Josh isn’t himself. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil it, so let’s just say, spooky things happen.
In many respects, “Insidious Chapter 2” is an improvement on its predecessor. The screenplay by Leigh Whannell (who wrote the first one and is a frequent collaborator with Wan) is more intricate; the story this time having multiple strands and spanning multiple time periods. In addition the characters and mythology created in the first one are explored at greater depth. The picture is effectively made; Joseph Bishara’s score is eerie and unsettling and like any great horror filmmaker Wan doesn’t rely on empty “gotcha!” scares (you know, when someone suddenly pops out of the closet, or a cat is abruptly thrown at the camera) or an excessive amount of blood and gore. Instead he presents a horrific image, maybe abruptly or maybe not, and through craft he lets the image speak for itself. In other words, he doesn’t try overly hard to scare you (in the first half at least). This is also partly why “The Conjuring” worked so well.
Unfortunately, Wan can’t hold it together and as with the first “Insidious” this one eventually falls apart. When an interdimensional time travel twist is introduced in the third act, “Insidious Chapter 2” becomes too complex for its own good, which in turn causes everything else to not exactly cohere. The climax is just a little too over-the-top and confusing. In addition, the movie walks a dangerous line between comedy and drama. There is intentional humor but then there are number of horror sequences near the end that are unintentionally amusing and cheesy. And sometimes the intentional humor (two bumbling paranormal investigators played by Angus Sampson and Whannell) feels forced. “Insidious Chapter 2” does want to be taken seriously but at times the humor undermines it.
I can’t call “Insidious Chapter 2” a complete failure. It is better than the first one and even though the movie does fall apart it still shows that Wan has talent and could become a great modern horror filmmaker. But at the same time, because “The Conjuring” was so good and did hold together for the duration of its running time, “Insidious Chapter 2” can’t help but feel like a disappointment and a step in the wrong direction.