Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Insidious: Chapter 2" Review: A Clever Sequel That Lacks The Scares Of The First Film

Director James Wan's 2011 surprise horror hit Insidious was one of the scariest movies to be released in over a decade, a decade that was filled with lackluster and rather pathetic entries into the horror genre. It's fresh approach to a stale genre along with a solid cast and some unexpected twists and turns resulted in a film that opened the door to new and exciting possibilities.

The inevitable problem that arises however is when such an original concept is so successful that it spawns the eventual follow up, or sequel...or in this case, chapter. Sequels are almost always universally inferior to the original, even when the creative forces behind said original return for another go at it. So, how does Insidious: Chapter 2 stack up against the first film? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC Tyler Galleria 16  
Time: 12:00 am, Sept. 13 2013     
Projector Type: Digital 2D    
Film Rating: PG-13    
Film Runtime: 1 hr 45 min  
Studio: Film District

Loves: The first Insidious movie, Rose Byrne, movies that really scare me  
Likes: Patrick Wilson 
Neutral: Horror movie sequels 
Hates: That it isn't as scary as the first film     
Are we gonna get a chapter 3?: You betcha!

Immediately following the events of the first film, where Josh (Patrick Wilson) saved his son from the deepest reaches of the spirit world called The Further, him and the rest of the Lambert family moves in to a new home in hopes of leaving behind their terrifying past. Once they move in however, they soon discover that something came with them, something that still wants to use them to cross over to the world of the living, something that still wants to kill them.

Nobody really expected much from the first Insidious. A couple of good scares, some solid acting and maybe a restless night or two of sleep after the fact. But the movie was so much more than anyone expected. Although it started out like any other haunted house movie; whispers in the dark, doors opening on their own and a myriad of other things going bump in the night, it slowly revealed itself as something completely different.

Twist after twist mixed with some great direction from Wan, an original screenplay by Leigh Whannell and bolstered by a superb cast that never overplayed their hand; it all combined to help immerse audiences into a world unlike any they had seen or experienced before. To say that Insidious was a revelation for the horror genre would be a severe understatement and almost an insult to what they accomplished.

Now, we are faced with the sequel, every horror film's worst nightmare. Despite reuniting the original director with the original screenwriter and the entire original cast, there was still an air of caution surrounding Chapter 2. Horror sequels are notorious for not only sucking on their own, but also sucking the life out of everything that made the film that preceded it so great as well. But rest assured, this is one sequel that actually gets it right, despite a few minor missteps here and there.

From this point forward it is near impossible to talk about the sequel without divulging what transpires at the end of the first film. So, if you have yet to see the first film, I highly suggest that you take your leave now and take this advice; see the first film immediately. It is a fantastic modernizing of a classic genre that still retains this sort of throwback style to it and will scare the living hell out of you. The sequel is the perfect companion piece to that first film and MUST be seen in conjunction with it to get full satisfaction from it. Suffice it to say, if you liked the first one, you will like the second one. Alright, you have been warned, now get out of here.

Chapter 2 gets things rolling in the right direction from the get go by showing us a pivotal moment from the first film that we only briefly heard about before. This opening scene isn't meant just for nostalgia or as fan service (although it works as that as well), it is a clever way to set this sequel apart and take it in a completely different direction than the last film. The key to this is by focusing the film on Josh this time around and exploring his past, which was used only as a plot point in the last film.
 It's a brave and unique approach that works better than you might think, although it does result in a shift from ghostly scares to more realistic ones.

While the first film dealt mostly with malevolent spirits and demons who reside in the great beyond, the sequel delves more into the psychological forms of horror. It may not be as scary as the first film, but the changes that have been made are both significant and a breath of fresh air. Akin to classics like The Shining and The Amityville Horror, Chapter 2 takes an unexpected detour into the realm of supernatural spousal abuse and some seriously disturbing parental decisions.

But don't fret those of you looking to get freaked out by stuff popping out from the dark, the film isn't completely void of traditional scares, not by a long shot. There are still plenty of creepy places to visit, including an abandoned hospital that is sure to send chills down your spine, plenty of things to jump out at you with some really clever uses of some sheets and using one of those tin can phones with the string and plenty to keep you looking over your shoulder when you leave the theater.

At the conclusion of the first film, we become aware that Josh isn't exactly himself anymore, the figure in the black wedding dress that had haunted him as a child has apparently claimed his body and is now pretending to be him. That is all we had to go on at the end of that film, but the sequel quickly confirms all of our suspicions as we begin to see Josh change, both physically and mentally. We see it, his wife Rene (Rose Byrne) sees it and his children see it, and it is unsettling to say the least.

Entering this film already knowing what is happening to the Lambert family does take a little air out of the tire though. The mystery has been solved, we know everything about the astral projection and how the Further works. So, once again, it was a wise decision to flip the script and deliver a decidedly different experience and not rely so heavily on those same tricks. The tension is no longer reliant on whether or not their house is haunted, it is haunted, they all are. The focus is now shifted to Josh and whether or not the spirit that has possessed him will kill their family.

That uncertainty about him keeps the tension high and the predictability low. He is like a ticking time bomb, but when he explodes he will be taking his entire family with him. Aside from this new direction becoming heavily reliant on exposition and over explaining things that didn't really need explaining (did we really need to know the bride in black's history?), it keeps things relatively fresh and unpredictable throughout.

For as different as this film feels compared to the first one though, there are still a number of things that remain the same. First and foremost is the incredible cast from that first film. Rose Byrne once again treads that fine line of hysterical and frightened so as to never become overly obnoxious. The comic duo, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) who once again bring a very welcome bit of comedy to the usually grim proceedings.

Barbara Hershey reprises her role as Josh's mother and actually gets a lot more to do this time around. Lin Shaye also makes an appearance despite having died in the last film and has an entrance worthy of a superhero. Then there is the one new character of Carl (Steve Coulter), who takes Elise's role as the spirit guide and adds his own spin to it. But special attention needs to be paid to Patrick Wilson as Josh.

He without a doubt has the most complex role to play here and he nails it out the park. Having to be the same person he was before but also show that there is a dark evil brewing inside his rotting body, its not the sort of performance we usually get from a horror film and it only makes the film that much stronger. The showdown between possessed Josh and Carl in the living room later in the film is incredibly tense as it is written, but Wilson's performance just takes it over the top.

There are of course some nitpicks that can be leveled against the film, such as the ridiculous inclusion (and omission) of the police, how a child can force himself asleep whilst his demon possessed father beats down a door to kill him, characters we are told are dead and later we discover they are alive simply because it wouldn't be a happy ending otherwise and how a rotting body can suddenly return to normal again when it has a spirit exorcised from it. These points are somewhat silly and pointless to bring up, but they do stand out when they happen.

Either way you slice it, Insidious: Chapter 2 is an excellent sequel that remains true to what fans loved so much about the first film while also delivering a completely new experience. It's one stumbling block is only that in order to fully appreciate everything it does (and how masterfully it ties itself back to the events of the first film), is that it is almost required that you see the first film directly before it to be able to understand what is actually going on.

Final Thoughts: 

Despite being lighter on the scares and relying on your memories of the first film a bit too much, this is one sequel that avoids the usual horror sequel curse and delivers a surprisingly intelligent and unique approach to familiar territory while keeping most of what made the first film such a hit intact.


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