Insidious: Chapter 2 may very well be the most ambitious horror sequel I’ve ever seen. Not at all the slow burn haunted house flick that the first film was, this second chapter comes across as Back To The Future 2 meets Dream Warriors as directed by David Lynch. I’m not saying I loved the film, but I certainly have to admire the effort and intent behind it. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if its totally bonkers approach made it some sort of instant cult classic. I can even see myself liking it more (or less) after repeated viewings but, for right now, it’s a frustrating experience.
After a lengthy prologue (which features Lindsey Seim portraying a younger version of Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainier, oddly ADR’d with Shaye’s voice) the main narrative picks up right where the first Insidious left off and never stops moving. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell recognize that they painted themselves into a corner last time around, and they admirably soft shoe out of it by further developing the concept of “The Further.” Those of you familiar with the material know this development also means that Insidious: Chapter 2 has to be a very specific, idiosyncratic film – and it may not be for you.
I suppose the true test would be how you feel about the second half of the original film. If you liked the first half of Insidious (and thought that The Conjuring was a giant leap forward that sidestepped that unfortunate tonal shift at the midpoint) but thought that the detour into “The Further” was unnecessary – then there is little here for you. Insidious: Chapter 2 is the second half of that film several times over with time travel on top.
While many of the elements here work, the film simply tries to balance too many components. An interesting thread about a serial killer (and a character who may be possessed by him) is diluted by all of the other moving parts. The same goes for Rose Byrne’s arc, she knows something’s wrong with her husband and she’s trying to protect her family – but all of the intercutting divorces us from its momentum. Patrick Wilson has a ball playing with his more malevolent side, but there’s not enough of it. If you like Whannell and Angus Sampson’s teaming of “Tucker” and “Specs”, they’re less grating this time around but they don’t really fit into the overall flow. Jocelin Donahue is great as a young Barbara Hershey but, you guessed it, there’s not enough of her. It’s frustrating because there’s enough good stuff here to give you an itch but not enough to let you scratch it.
Meanwhile the scare scenes, those slowly building moments of terror where Wan typically towers above his peers, are too prevalent. So many moments in the film are constructed to have this kind of payoff that none of them really resonate. It’s like we’re watching Wan’s B-Sides, ephemera that’s of interest only to people who want to know what kind of stuff might have been cut from The Conjuring for time.
Still, as much as the film doesn’t work for me, I continue to be fascinated by it. In the month since my screening I kept circling back to it in anticipation of writing this review (which initially was going to be a bit more harsh). While I would much rather watch a documentary on its production than revisit the actual feature, it’s one of the rare cases where the risk on display almost validates the work at hand. Wan, coming off The Conjuring and gearing up for Fast 7, may not have had enough time to fully realize his vision – but I’ll take an admirable failure over a lazy sequel any day of the week.