Boredom is the last thing a viewer wants to feel during a horror movie. Some films, such as the 2007 box office success Paranormal Activity, can afford long sections of stillness because they gradually build a sense of tension. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Insidious: Chapter 2. It adheres to a formulaic pattern of long setups and loud gimmicks that fall flat.
This sequel to 2011's Insidious explores the origins of the first movie's plot. A study into the childhood of Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) reveals how dark spirits from his past came back to haunt his son in the previous installment. This time around, they have returned from their realm, the Further, to possess Josh again. The plot feels aimless and contrived until it connects back to the events of its predecessor. In fact, the sequel relies so heavily on the plot of Insidious that it could never work as a standalone film.
Second-rate humor repeatedly breaks any tension the script manages to accumulate, stripping away all momentum. The film therefore never establishes consistency, so the viewer is constantly reminded the image on the screen is just a movie. These interruptions seem as if the writers are taking mercy on their audience, but the purpose of a horror movie is to scare people. That director James Wan and his co-writer Leigh Whannell are also responsible for the relentless 2004 crime horror Saw is hard to believe.
The script leaves a few important questions unanswered. Good horror makes the viewer think, but inconsistencies should definitely be explained. Wan and Whannell never fully develop the idea of the Further. Their rules for who can enter the spirit realm seem pretty arbitrary, and ground rules are as important for good horror as they are for good sci-fi.
Most of the script's attempts to flesh out the characters are also weak, so the actors had very little material to work with. Local favorite Patrick Wilson's performance as Josh Lambert stands out only in the absence of captivating performances from the rest of the cast. Two of the more memorable characters are paranormal investigators Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), but sadly, every scene used to characterize the comedic duo is crammed between more serious moments, so the humor comes across as forced. While the acting in the film is tolerable, it never becomes memorable, mainly because none of the actors has room to shine.
The surreal, nightmarish aesthetics of the Further are the best part of the movie, but some of the other visual aspects are lacking. While Wan has mastered the art of lighting, he uses the dolly zoom quite excessively. The idea behind a dolly zoom is to warp the shot so that the foreground and background either pull together or push apart, but here repetition makes the effect more disconcerting than impactful, an amateur misuse that brings Wan's direction into question.
Near the end of the film there is a really cool allusion to Jack Nicholson bursting through a door with an axe in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror classic, The Shining, but the movie is derivative in all the wrong ways, robbing the horror genre more than it ever bothers to pay homage to it. That being said, Wan's use of the children's song Row, Row, Row Your Boat is one of the creepier scenes in the film.
Though Insidious: Chapter 2 will make the viewer jump a couple times, none of its cheap thrills add anything to the plot or introduce new twists. The film lacks a certain psychological impact necessary for good horror, so while specific moments are startling, the movie as a whole is not very scary. Disjointed in both story and tone, Chapter 2 simply fails to come together as a complete vision. It also fails to live up to Insidious, so perhaps leaving it open for a third installment was a bad idea.
Mark Mukherjee is a senior at King High.