By Jason Lin
Picking up where the first film ended with a climatic cliffhanger, Insidious: Chapter 2 weakens its core values with a slackened control over the film's direction by James Wan along with relatively superficial story and character development. Leaning undesirably more towards random cheap thrills, Insidious: Chapter 2 feels more like a genre exercise as a disappointing outcome of an acclaimed prequel.
The famed horror team of director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell reunite with the original cast of Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey and Ty Simpkins in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2, the terrifying sequel to the acclaimed horror film, which follows the haunted Lambert family as they seek to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.
Faring well in 2011's Insidious and following up with possibly this year's best horror film The Conjuring, the audience will naturally have a higher expectation of James Wan to deliver the goods with his second chapter of Insidious. Unfortunately, his third attempt isn't going to strike jackpot despite some good branding elements as indicators of a potential cash cow franchise.
Should Insidious translate into an annual routine at the theatres (Insidious 3 has just been announced), one can either expect more adventures of the Lamberts or the misfitting Specs and Tucker (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) to form their own. In any case, it shouldn't be a surprise as the ending of Chapter 2 has laid the foundation for an imminent third to follow.
Opening with a flashback scene of Josh (Patrick Wilson) and his mother Lorraine's (Barbara Hershey) when Josh was a young boy, the formulaic narrative structure retains itself. The opening sequence that follows upon the conclusion of the opening scene is effective in providing the desired underlying mood and an overview of what is to come through visuals of kinetic motifs (e.g. opening of a red door into darkness, a devilish paw print impressed upon white bed sheets). While it is less imaginatively constructed in contrast to its prequel, it is nevertheless positive branding elements that Wan's crew carried over from the first film. This helps Chapter 2 to score in terms of further franchise development, which is also enabled by most of the original film crew reprising for consistency.
Joseph Bishara's chilling score sounds the same with little deviation albeit fuelling some of the blatant scares devised by the filmmakers (or possibly by request of producers). Blatant boos are not an offence in the genre, but the higher reliance on random scare tactics that do not value-add towards the film is. This is especially observed in a senseless scene where Renai (Rose Byrne) is surprised by Lorraine who appears out of nowhere while opening her car door.
Each of the characters have lesser room for development as some are sidelined to pave way for scripted scares (which are arguably the film's deliverables accountable towards mainstream genre fans) as well as certain efforts in closing certain loops of the first film. It is a pity as cast members like Byrne steps well into hysteria and frustration from her disturbances. Many might have also wished to see more chemistry between Specs and Tucker, the hilarious paranormal investigating duo.
Leigh Whannell's screenplay goes in the fashion of his previous work such as Saw where it looks at addressing earlier plot gaps and questions during the second half of Chapter 2. Unfortunately, some of these loop closing and plot devices draw further questions as they seem to be contradictory in nature when references are made to the first film. In view of not revealing spoilers, it will not be detailed and discussed here.
With more scare scenes, the direction feels less taut as Chapter 2 it is more of a series of mini paranormal encounters by the respective characters. Some are also rather incessant for liking (the piano played by itself for more than three times in the film). The more the viewers are treated to cheap scares, the less the story grips upon the audience as they wear the audience down gradually throughout the 100 minutes. Insidious achieved one of the best values highly regarded by this opinion, which is "Story is King". Sadly, this is not the case here.
Adopting relevant lighting (during dark scenes in The Further) and some mildly interesting camera movements befitting the film's setting and scripted scenarios, John R. Leonetti performs relatively well to keep affairs visually haunting on the big silver screen. There are however no "glidecam" fluid camera motion as seen in The Conjuring, which Leonetti also lensed.
Perhaps Wan really meant it when he says that he is done with the horror genre as he moves on to work on the seventh edition of the Fast and Furious franchise. Insidious: Chapter 2 might be a telltale sign of Wan's distraction with a less focused direction that hinders the film from achieving like its predecessor.
(Preview screening courtesy of Sony Pictures Singapore)