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Review: Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Directed by: James Wan

Premise: A sequel to the 2011 film. Picking up where the previous picture left off, the Lambert family continues to be terrorized by supernatural forces.

What Works: Following his work at the helm of Saw and The Conjuring, James Wan is shaping up to be one of the most successful directors working in the horror genre at the moment. Wan’s success is largely attributable to two strengths. First, his movies have impeccable technical credits, which are more important in horror filmmaking than in most other genres. Second, Wan demonstrates a Steven Spielberg-like understanding for what the audience can take and the extent to which he can scare them without turning off mainstream viewers. Insidious: Chapter 2 demonstrates those qualities, perhaps better than any other film Wan has made so far. This is a very well made picture and it uses lighting, camera placement, and sound to full effect. The scenes taking place in the hereafter are very well done with creepy atmospheric effects taking the place of elaborate set design and haunting scenes build nicely with tension culminating in shocks. The ultimate gage of success in a movie like this is whether or not it inspires fear. Insidious: Chapter 2 does manage to be a scary movie and it has a steady stream of pleasantly frightening moments.

What Doesn’t: Insidious: Chapter 2 is very well made from a technical stand point but it is much weaker in its storytelling. The narrative problems of this movie are a result of the filmmakers’ approach to their sequel. Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up the story without a recap of the first film that would refamiliarize the viewer with the characters and their situation. That’s a legitimate way to approach a sequel but it has pitfalls that the filmmakers of this picture fall into. Viewers need to have seen the original Insidious in order to understand this film and if they haven’t seen it (or have seen it but don’t remember the details) none of this is going to make any sense. The bigger problem with this immediate continuity is that the sequel comes across as an addendum to the original picture instead of story in its own right. The audience is not reintroduced to the characters and the family members don’t grow over the course of the story. In the first film the parents were defined by the extent to which they put themselves into danger to save their child. In this film the family is much more passive and the only thing defining them is the degree to which they are scared. The film also has problems with its backstory. Like a lot of ghost stories, Insidious: Chapter 2 is partly a mystery as the main characters try to uncover the source of the haunting. But the backstory of this film gets confusing as the history of the haunting becomes more complicated and the exposition isn’t always handled so deftly. When the source of the mystery is finally revealed it is absurd and boarders between being creepy and being absurdly funny. Ultimately, Insidious: Chapter 2 is more of a technical exercise than a narrative one and so the details of the haunting are incidental to this film. However, this movie is also a little too familiar. Insidious: Chapter 2 was directed by James Wan, who, aside from the original Insidious, had previously directed Dead Silence and The Conjuring. All of these movies are remarkably similar in both style and story and it is as though James Wan is basically making the same movie over and over again. Fortunately for Wan, he is generally getting better with each attempt.

Bottom Line: Insidious: Chapter 2 is an enjoyably scary movie. It has some fundamental problems with the storytelling but the technical craft and the successful scares make up for its other shortcomings.

Episode: #457 (September 22, 2013)