(This review features heavy spoilers for Insidious).
As far as supernatural horror goes, most recent entries in the genre have been easily forgettable. Even 2011’s Insidious was somewhat disappointing, despite having a solid opening act and brilliant sound. Until The Conjuring, horror fans were best off watching old classics like The Shining and The Exorcist. With such a powerful and positive response to The Conjuring, James Wan alleged that he was taking things he learned from that experience and applying them to his follow up to Insidious. Sadly, it seems he was just blowing smoke, as Insidious: Chapter 2 is a mostly stale exercise in conventional PG-13 horror.
Immediately following Josh’s (Patrick Wilson) journey into the hellish “Further” to save his son’s soul from a malevolent demon, Josh is confronted by a mysterious apparition that plagued him in his youth. Seemingly driving the ghostly woman away, Josh and Dalton (Ty Simpkins) emerge from the Further and reunite with their terrified family. Things seem fine until Elise (Lin Shaye) notices Josh acting strangely. She quickly snaps a picture of him, which sends him into an uncharacteristic rage. In his fury he strangles her to death and disappears from the scene of the crime as Renai (Rose Byrne) discovers her body. Moments later Josh returns, seemingly having no memories of the attack. In spite of Elise’s death, the Lamberts assume that their woes have ended.
After a short and fruitless investigation into Elise’s murder by the local police, things seem calm. Soon however, more ghastly apparitions begin haunting Renai and Dalton, and it becomes clear that something followed Josh out of the Further. As the days pass, the ghosts become stronger and stronger and Josh’s behavior grows more erratic. Terrified of her husband and without a plan, Renai contacts Josh’s mother (Barbara Hershey) and the remaining ghost hunters, Tucker (Angus Sampson), Specs (Leigh Whannell), and an old friend of Elise’s, Carl (Steve Coulter). Renai tries to keep things low key as the four hunters seek the truth behind Josh’s possession and the spectre that has haunted him for so long.
This film is told as two seperate, but intertwining tales. The first follows the Lamberts as Dalton and Renai live in fear under the dark shadow that used to be their loving husband and father. The second follows the four hunters as they dig up clues in spooky abandoned hospitals and houses. The first story contains the same creepy atmosphere and scares as the first part of the first film, but you can’t help but feel you’re watching the same film. As I saw both films for the first time in a double feature this was apparent to me, but didn’t really bother me. This is how these movies should be seen as the second literally picks up from the first film without missing a beat. In that context it just feels like you’re watching one big three hour spook fest. I’d imagine that anyone new to the series who sees Insidious: Chapter 2 first will just be confused and shocked by how quickly things seem to escalate.
The primary problem with this is that things start off so spooky that there’s really nowhere for the film to go as it trudges along. There’s almost no down time from the outset of the first film’s events to the beginning of the terror in the second film, and the film just feels like one big final act that drags its heels.
The second story that follows the hunters is inhabited by the extremely dry characters, Lorraine and Carl, and the reprehensibly unfunny comic relief pairing of Specs and Tucker. With such a weak character base these segments feel like a slightly less awkward episode of Ghost Adventures, with less scares than blatant exposition. There are some creepy moments, but most wind up falling flat but the time the musical stings lash out at your ears and the beasties leap at the screen. This isn’t helped by the tame nature of the film in order to maintain the series’ PG-13 rating. Most of the scares are just people in heavy makeup laughing at the camera accompanied by monstrous noises. Few moments in the film are worse than the return of Elise’s character.
In the film’s flashback opening her younger self is played rather unconvincingly by Jocelin Donahue, who for some inexplicable reason has every line of dialouge dubbed by Lin Shaye, which rips you from the moment and leaves the opening sequence devoid of impact. Later in the film, her spirit serves as an expository guide to the strange happenings, and Lin Shaye’s motherly tone just makes these scenes cheesy.
As always though, Wan demonstrates his keen ability to saturate his frame with atmosphere, it’s just a weak script and cliched performances from the entire cast that drag this movie past the further into the Netherrealm. With and ending that clearly sets up for more, you can’t help but roll your eyes and even laugh at this series that has fallen so far in just three hours. Is this the same production team that made the ever scary and immeasurably effective The Conjuring? Because it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it.