Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #210
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 13, 2013
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $160,444,011
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: James Wan
Producers: Jason Blum, Oren Peli
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Story by: James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Special Effects: Mark Gullesserian
Visual Effects: Raymond McIntyre Jr
Cinematography: John R. Leonetti
Score: Joseph Bishara
Editing: Kirk Morri
Studios: IM Global, Entertainment One, Blumhouse Productions
Distributors: FilmDistrict, Stage 6 Films
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Andrew Astor, Danielle Bisutti, Tom Fitzpatrick, Tyler Griffin, Michael Beach, J. LaRose, Brooke Peoples, Edwina Findley, Stephanie Pearson, Jorge Pallo, Priscilla Garita, Jenna Ortega, Dannay Rodriguez
Suggested Audio Candy
Joseph Bishara “Insidious”
Sequels tend to receive something of a raw deal. If a film-maker finds a formula that works, especially one which makes a mint at the box office, then it opens up the door to potential franchising and an expansion on the existing template which can prove irresistible from a financial standpoint. Directors are often wary of retreading their theme and, more often than not, relinquish the reigns by that point, not wishing their reputations to become tarnished by simply milking the cash cow. Occasionally however, they persevere. Therefore when a second chapter surfaces with the same team in tact it is time to breathe an almighty collective sigh of relief.
Insidious made a killing in theatrical receipts against a relatively meager outlay and, moreover, won itself many fans for its refreshing take on the age-old haunted house premise. Indeed James Wan, who has become one of the most revered directors on the horror circuit after exploring this theme with Dead Silence and The Conjuring, the latter of which enjoyed humongous mainstream success, has proven himself time and again by knowing what it is audiences will clamor for and what will make the burliest impact on their psyche. The first chapter was a film of two distinct halves, the first an exercise in unbridled terror and the second a little too literal in its execution and consequently less effectual.
Nevertheless, upon receiving the Intel that Wan would be returning to direct Insidious: Chapter 2 and bringing the entire original cast with him, I was somewhat relieved. Safe hands I thought and, if box office receipts give any indication, then all indicators were positive. Nobody can set the scene with such deftness and eek every last ounce of tension from a scenario like this man. Audio plays a huge part, with loud stabbing sound spikes punctuating the deathly silence and adding layers of consternation to proceedings while visually his works excel through those slow advances into darkened recesses and exquisite shot framing offering our retinas the same degree of dread and discomfort.
He donates a new abode for the hauntings of the second film and my first mental retort was something along the lines of “why the hell would a family who has been through the ordeal the Lamberts suffered want to relocate to another house with such character”. If that were me I’d be straight into an open plan condo with nothing vintage about it but, knowing just how effortlessly Wan can set a scene, I suspended disbelief as is necessary with a sequel like this. It has it all, the stairwell tinged in crimson hues, a grand piano which manages to appears to have the spirit of Richard Clayderman pent-up within and the baby walker which is presumably manufactured by the same firm that brought us the wheelchair from The Changeling. All pawns are in place.
Picking up directly where the previous film left off, after an opening flashback to lend the story extra weight, we are house guests once again as we are made privy to the inevitable fallout of the terrors the brood faced which left a fresh stiff to attempt to explain to the authorities. The players may be the same but the game has changed, the tight family unit from before are now fragmented and all heading in entirely different directions. Only mother hen Renai (Rose Byrne) is consistent and displays the same degree of woe, albeit with added layers of haggard. Josh (Patrick Wilson) however is on a far darker trajectory and openly displays his disconnect through conversations with himself and constant underlying disdain for those around him he held dear before.
It is an uncomfortable transition as the solidarity is absent which prevented Insidious from being just an elaborate tapestry of well-staged set pieces. I have learned to adapt on the move as the one thing I will never be culpable of is letting presumption sully my judgement in such cases. Besides, this is James Wan we are talking of here and he has his mojo firmly intact after pinpointing so adeptly on numerous occasions what makes a scary scene work. Determined to give the film a fair shot, I pressed on and simply adjusted the bar of expectation accordingly.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is an entirely different beast from its forebear. It looks at what made works such as Poltergeist and The Shining so bankable and implements accordingly. Once again it uses its first act to set up the pins although here Wan gives himself the fateful seven-ten split, making it nigh-on impossible to achieve the strike he is aiming for. The jolts are in place but none so masterfully executed. The portentous mood and tone are present and correct but we have become a little desensitized to the techniques utilized and the most effective moments are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them flashes of shrouded figures in our tertiary vision not so readily discerned.
Back story plays a significant role and we are presented with a variety of flashbacks which attempt at fleshing things out but come across as ill-advised distractions to what is happening with our core group of characters. Light relief Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) return and are in typically blundering form but are given far more to do this time and thus their goofs become an incessant interruption to the natural ebb and flow. That’s not to say that their return isn’t necessitated but we are a far cry away from the original and Insidious was at its most majestic prior to their introduction first time out. This time they’re integral throughout.
Medium Elise (the ever-glorious Lin Shaye) left her temporal shell behind her at the close of the first film and so, in her place, is fellow kook and Yahtzee enthusiast Carl (Steve Coulter) who uses tossed dice as a way of forging contact with the spirits. He is less assured than Elise and spends his time looking a darned sight more perplexed than Josh who is having a bit of an attack of the Jack Torrences back at the family home. Because so much of the screen time is devoted to this parallel sub-plot, it leaves precious little time for Wilson’s character to undergo any sort of augmentation and this left me rather cold.
I haven’t struggled so much to appraise a movie in some time as has been the case with Insidious: Chapter 2. Truth is, it seldom raises the goosebumps, and I’m ordinarily a bit of a cheap date in that respect. There are moments and, when these occur, Wan is the one guy you want sitting at the other side of the lens. It’s also consistently entertaining and never less than watchable. No calamities here then but, perhaps more disparaging, is the fact that it all seems so ‘business-as-usual’.
Wan is taking a brief hiatus to horror and focusing on more mainstream ventures but assures that he will return. I think that is a very astute move and any time away will no doubt do him the world of good. When he returns our arms will be wide open and lips poised once more to suckle on his creative teats but Insidious: Chapter 2 is living, breathing proof that he has taken the haunted house movie as far as he can at this juncture.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Dread Factor: 3/5
For the Dread-Heads: I would be less inclined to focus on the generous seven it rates overall, but just about warrants, and more concerned by the middling score it measures on the dread scale. Sure, there are instances which still chill the blood, but considering the faster pace and, perhaps because of such, Insidious: Chapter 2 isn’t nearly as ominous as its predecessor. That is not to say that it won’t have you jumping at shadows, just considerably less so than I had anticipated.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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