Friday, September 13, 2013


Earlier this year moviegoers went screaming – some of them all the way back to church – after sitting through James Wan’s THE CONJURING.  Though some parts of that movie were admittedly slow and at variance with the real-life (and much more frightening) experiences of the people involved, it delivered creepiness with a payoff and horror at the pitch of a sonic boom.  Many of you may know then, that Wan is also the filmmaker responsible for the first INSIDIOUS (2011), an original, creep-inducing film where old horror tropes were reimagined in new and intriguing ways; in short, the first INSIDIOUS would have left moviegoers wanting more even if the sequel had not been set up by the ending.  Enter INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2.

I don’t know.  Maybe being a paranormalist, someone with personal experience of the reality of the impossible and familiar with the laws of the supernatural realm (at least where that realm can be said to have laws), sets my “fright bar” rather high.  But in the case of James Wan, high expectations are understandable: the first INSIDIOUS contained one of the creepiest scenes (that of a ghostly woman crying in a corner) seen in the genre since the days when ambience and effect actually counted for something; and THE CONJURING, once it got started, was a non-stop fear fest.  And it is precisely because of these successes that INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 disappoints.


INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 is really just more of INSIDIOUS.  In fact, this second installment often makes us feel as if we are viewing the outtake reel from the first movie, with some new locations and a couple of new faces – alive and dead.  Following opening credits that are mostly a visual rehash of pertinent parts of “the story thus far,” we are once again introduced to the hapless Lambert family, parents Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) and their children, one of whom – Dalton, played by Ty Simpkins – was the catalyst for the haunting activity in the first film.  In CHAPTER 2 we are asked to assume that the action has picked up almost exactly where the first film left off – which is difficult because both Simpkins and his on-screen siblings have obviously matured since 2011.  Having reclaimed young Dalton from the spiritual nowhere-land called “the Further,” and shocked by the death of the medium who helped facilitate the boy’s rescue (Elise, played by Lin Shaye) the family moves in with Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey).

Grandma Lambert lives in a house equally as creepy, and way more claustrophobic than the home where all the Lamberts’ troubles began.  As it happens, this is also the place where, as a child, Josh had his own harrowing  out-of-body experiences, and we quickly learn how the memories of those experiences were suppressed in Josh’s memory.  This is only the first of many flashbacks, retellings, continuations, and contrivances that pass as this movie’s complicated second act.  One dead medium (Shaye) is replaced by a new medium who is immediately endangered by a possessed Josh Lambert (replacing his son in the realm of the Further) who also poses a danger to his entire family while his wife is marginalized into being the “reactor” to all the frights and his mother gets to do some truly exciting ghost hunting outside of her crazy, stuffy Victorian house.  Got that?


Yes, the zany ghosthunting team is back and in fact, they get the most screen time in this film, along with Grandma Lambert and the new medium.  Unfortunately, this team of investigators does nothing to further anyone’s confidence in serious paranormal research as they bumble through grief over the loss of their friend Elise, then raid her home, break into an abandoned hospital and a derelict house, simultaneously juggle Class A tranquilizers, Hot Pockets, and jelly donuts, and knock themselves unconscious: everybody say, “Aw, shucks!” Just a day in the life of those crazy paranormalists!  And we kind of retroactively start to really like the dead medium after we see how cool her house was in life (why can’t the whole movie take place there? oh, and look for hints of “Paranormal Activity”) and once we realize that she’s the only one who’s going to help us ALL out of this puzzle, and she’s DEAD. 

Flawed, slow, insipid, even unnecessary are good ways to describe INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2, especially because the entirety of the “new” story could have been told in an Unrated/Extended Cut edition of the first INSIDIOUS.

"Oy!  I get all dressed up - you think they'd use me more!"