Only time can tell who will be claimed the major horror plays of the 2010's. James Wan has already proven himself as a fantastic horror director with The Conjuring and the first Saw. There aren't very many directors that manage to make such an impression on viewers around the world. The first Insidious is an eerie feature with an incredibly powerful atmosphere. The last act is a bit shaky, but it still manages to have an exciting cliffhanger that had horror fans talking. After FilmDistrict announced that they would be distributing a sequel, I was simply hoping that this wouldn't turn into another generic paranormal franchise. The first movie works very well by itself. The unanswered questions don't need explaining, since the mystery gives a certain power to the film. Unfortunately, Insidious: Chapter 2 suffers from pursuing a truly questionable direction with incredibly disappointing results.
After Elise Rainier's (Lin Shaye) death, the Lambert family must start to rebuild their lives. However, Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) suspects that something is wrong with her husband, Josh (Patrick Wilson). His childhood secret continues to haunt the family, as the spirit world isn't done with them. Even with their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) awake from his coma and having found a different house, they can't seem to escape the evil that continues to split the family apart. The paranormal entities still want the one thing that the Lambert family has: life.
Insidious: Chapter 2 begins by going back in time to when Josh was a kid. With his mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) concerned about a lot of his symptoms, she finds Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to investigate. While this was touched upon in the first feature, screenwriter Leigh Whannell goes a little bit deeper into this material. Unfortunately, the majority of the movie seems to constantly put its predecessor on a pedestal and has difficulty pushing the plot along. A few references would have been fine, but there are far too many. There's a slow build-up, but there is no element of suspense. It never had me at the edge of my seat or wondering what would happen next. While there are a few scenes that introduce some type of spirit "terrorizing" the family by playing the piano and whatnot, it doesn't build as it should. It all feels very cheap and predictable, which is never a good foot to start off on.
I was hoping that it would get better, but it continues to flatline. One of the positive aspects of Insidious was that it made audiences genuinely care about whether this family would be able to overcome the supernatural entities that wouldn't stop following them. Even though these are the same characters, they have lost all of their charm. Not only is there a huge disconnect, but Renai Lambert comes across as the stereotypical victim who doesn't do anything about all of the evidence in front of her. Fortunately, there are a few unique elements found here and there, but they aren't executed very well. I won't go into detail about them, as it would be impossible to do so without spoiling major plot points for those who will be seeing this. Regardless, it often feels like the filmmakers didn't know where to take the story next. By the time we reach the third act, it no longer feels like it fits the title.
At this point, I lost all faith in the direction that this film was taking. It attempts to twist, turn, and shock. This plot development surely took me by surprise, but not in a good way. There are some questions that weren't answered in the previous motion picture, but Insidious: Chapter 2 tries to go back and give closure to those questions. Not only does this ruin the impact of its predecessor, but it doesn't give the sequel anywhere to go. The more this plot reveals, the less effective it becomes. When it isn't trying to "scare" viewers, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) are present for unnecessary comic relief. Nearly all of their content feels like filler that sticks out like a sore thumb. Similar to many horror flicks, the final moments of the running time features an underwhelming cliffhanger that will leave countless audiences rolling their eyes. It's a shame that the filmmakers couldn't make something intense of the final act. There isn't anything particularly unique or eerie about the ending.
Regardless of the talent on board, it simply isn't possible to polish a screenplay that doesn't work. Patrick Wilson has proven his ability to deliver impressive performances across a variety of different genres. Horror is no different, as he still manages to do what he can with this material. He doesn't receive as much screen time in this case, but he's believable. Rose Byrne is massively limited in the character of Renai Lambert. She's great in some scenes, but I had difficulty believing her as the helpless victim who refuses to do much of anything to save her family. Her character feels a lot different, and it never feels as if she poured much of any emotion into this role. The remainder of the cast is pretty flat, but a lot of that can be blamed on the script. The remainder of that falls in the hands of Wan.
Fortunately, the atmosphere is still as strong as ever. Director James Wan continues to impress with his use of camera angles. The color palette also fits incredibly well. When the plot goes into "The Further," the visuals only get better with its use of dark colors and ability to create the atmosphere of a nightmare. All of these scenes ooze with the horror greatness that I was expecting from the content itself. Meanwhile, the sound design isn't quite as impressive, but it gives enough oomph required during the "jump-out" scenes. Every word of dialogue can be understood and the surround sound gets a decent amount of use. Even though James Wan disappoints with the overall feature, he manages to make every scene look phenomenal.
After creating horror films as strong as Insidious and The Conjuring, this will always be known as one of James Wan's duds. There isn't a single eerie moment to be found throughout the entire running time. Every "jump scare" can be seen from a mile away. It feels the need to answer questions from its predecessor rather than moving the story forward. The third act attempts to execute a huge twist, but it left me feeling incredibly disappointed. This motion picture never needed to answer the questions of its predecessor, as it could have been utilized to create some new creepy material. Insidious: Chapter 2 is a lame sequel that lives in the past. There isn't much to celebrate, since this is another empty and forgettable horror flick. Just skip this and go watch the first one again. It's a lot better and doesn't feel the need to explain every plot point.