James Wan is really starting to come into his own as a horror director. Saw‘s direction was good, but was a little fast-paced and music-video-esque for the film’s tone. Insidious was a step in the right direction, with it being a delightful little homage to old school Hammer horror films that was scary and entertaining. However, it was the year of 2013 that Wan released his best film yet, The Conjuring. It was atmospheric, well-written, beautifully shot, and best of all, absolutely terrifying. So with Insidious Chapter 2 being released very shortly after that film, it does have a lot to live up to. However, comparing to The Conjuring isn’t really fair, as they’re different types of movies. Insidious was much more bombastic and loud, while The Conjuring was more quiet and creepy, which made the scares all the more impacting. So instead of asking ‘is Insidious Chapter 2 as good as The Conjuring?’, I will instead ask ‘is Insidious: Chapter 2 as good as Insidious?’ The sad answer is no, not even close.
Insidious Chapter 2 picks up right where Chapter 1 left off. After the exorcism at the end of the last film (I know it wasn’t technically an exorcism, but the principles are the same), Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Patrick Wilson) Lambert move out of their house and into Josh’s mother’s (Barbara Hershey) house. However, it appears as if an evil spirit that has been haunting Josh his whole life has come through during Dalton’s (Ty Simpkins) rescue mission and is trying to take over Josh’s body. Now they must figure out how to vanquish the spirit with the help of ghost hunters Specs (Leigh Whannel) and Tucker (Angus Sampson).
Yes, you did read that right Specs and Tucker are back, despite the fact they were like the first film’s personal Jar Jar Binks, providing comic relief that was neither funny nor relieving. Surprisingly, however, they’re not nearly as unbearable as in Insidious, and quite a few of their lines get a real laugh and add some genuine comic relief. This is one of the film’s main positives, as the actual horror is rather lacking. And by ‘rather lacking’, I mean essentially not there at all. There’s no atmosphere build up, no real tension, just a long silence following by a very loud bang. It’s a shame, because Insidious felt like it had an air of dread and otherworldliness, while Chapter 2 just feels flat and, if you’ll pardon the pun, lifeless.
The story goes through all the same motions as Chapter 1, even having a ‘shocking’ cliffhanger ending, no doubt teasing a third film. But while the ending to Chapter 1 was a tense cliffhanger because it was the ending to the main plot, the cliffhanger here isn’t related to the main story, and is introduced in the last two minutes of the film, leaving no reason to actually care about it at all. It all just smacks of a film that was made to make a franchise, not because there was an actual story to tell. And the sad thing is, I know that isn’t true, because interviews with James Wan and Leigh Whannel (the writer) show that this is a story they really wanted to tell. I just cannot for the life of me think why. It adds another story onto a story that worked perfectly well on it’s own. The open cliffhanger ending of the first film was fine by itself and didn’t need to be expanded on.
The tone of the movie is all over the place, with a big, loud scare being directly followed by a comedy routine from Specs and Tucker, leaving the whole experience feeling jarring and disjointed. It’s like the film can’t decide if it wants to be a silly horror-comedy or an homage to classic horror films like the first one was, so it went for the ‘do everything to get maximum appeal’ option that Hollywood seems so fond of these days. But the problem with trying to please everyone is that you end up spreading the elements too thin and just give a mediocre experience for everyone. It’s a real shame, because Insidious could have worked well as a standalone piece of work, but Chapter 2 just feels the need to explain plot point after plot point from the first film, making Chapter 1 feel less scary if watched again, because you know what’s going on, and nothing is ever as scary if you know what’s going on.