by Bob Garver
Sept. 16, 2013. Simply put, if you’ve never seen 2010’s “Insidious” then you should not see “Insidious: Chapter 2.” This is not to say that you shouldn’t see “Insidious” and then see “Chapter 2” as a matter of fact it would do you well to see the first film as closely as you can to the second. “Chapter 2” demands that you have an intense familiarity with its predecessor and isn’t afraid to leave you behind if you don’t. I’ll give you a quick recap, please be advised that the following section contains spoilers for “Insidious” though if they really are spoilers then that means you’ve never seen “Insidious” and therefore aren’t the audience for “Chapter 2.”
Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) has successfully rescued the soul of his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) from the purgatory-like dimension known as The Further. This of course came as a great relief to his family, including his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), not just because they had Dalton back, but because freaky things would assumedly stop happening around his Earth-bound body. However, paranormal investigator Elise (Lin Shaye) sensed something was wrong with the returning Josh. She discovered that his body was actually inhabited by an evil spirit who then killed her and rejoined the family, likely set on killing them as well.
The new film takes place right after the first one. By “right after” I mean that it continues a scene that was cut off for dramatic effect. The first act of the film is very much like the first act of the original. Freaky things happen around the Lambert house and it’s clear that they’re not out of trouble just yet. Renai is scared out of her wits but “Josh” insists they’re not in any danger. But at least he can’t deny that the scriness is caused by spirits this time, so there’s no frustrating journey where he eventually comes to accept something that we already knew from the commercials.
The spirits from “Insidious” were pretty loosely defined; this film does a lot more to identify the source of the terror. There’s a whole backstory with a serial killer and his abusive mother. For once I don’t think it was a good idea to develop the villains as characters. There’s osmething about understanind them that makes them less threatening. They were much scarier as unknowns whose random attacks lent an uneasy unpredictability to the proceedings.
I liked the way the story was structured, with layered approaches to time, identities and planes of existence. I can’t say I was able to follow all of it (I’m still not sure which violent episodes were carried out by the serial killer and which ones were carried out by his mother), but I got the gist enough to know when the film was giving us some clever payoffs. And that includes the details that go back to the first film. But again, be warned, you really have to have a memory of details from the first film, especially in a scene that is played again nearly shot for shot but this time with a new context.
The puzzling plot works to the film’s advantage, but not a lot else works. The scares are less effective once they start coming with explanations. The lambert family is less fun this time around and the characters who are supposed to be fun (like the bumbling comic relief scientists) are just annoying. Also, Patrick Wilson doesn’t bring enough madness to the role of the possessed killer, whose family-threatening antics are straight out of “The Shining.” If you were a big fan of “Insidious” don’t let me stop you from seeing “Chapter 2”. But if you didn’t like it, you won;t be won over by this follow-up and if you didn’t see it, you won’t be able to win a game of catch-up.
One and a half stars out of five.