Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) - Movie Review
When Saw first came out to phenomenal box office returns, people soon became familiar with director James Wan’s supposed ‘torture porn’ style. After taking a producing role for the rest of the series, and his subsequent releases Dead Silence and Death Sentence barely received any critical attention (let alone positive attention), it seemed like he was going to stuck with that label for the rest of his professional career, if it would even survive beyond all that. Then came Insidious in 2009, and audiences took note. Rather than the industrial grime and twisted morals that have been attached to him thanks to the original Saw, Insidious blasted its way into cinemas and showed off Wan’s true style: Old-school horror thrills reminiscent of the haunted house flicks of the 70’s and 80’s. After that film set a far better preconception for the man, he would go on to even greater success with The Conjuring and even show his proficiency in genres outside of horror. However, same year that Conjuring was released, he went back to that staple that gave him the credit he desperately deserved… and critics weren’t all that into it. Time to dive in and see if it really deserves the flack it got.

The plot: Shortly after the events of the first film, Josh (Patrick Wilson) has been possessed by a spirit from The Further. As his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and sons Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor) notice that he has been acting strangely since their encounter with the Red-Faced Demon, his mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) calls in Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to help her get to the bottom of what is still haunting their family.

Patrick Wilson is still a great actor and, thankfully, the character he’s playing this time kind of is as well. Not only does he get to slip into his old shoes as Josh, he gets to have some fun as Parker Crane, making for some nice Dolarhyde-lite thrills. Lin Shaye was extremely distracting in the opening scene, where her voice was very jarringly dubbed over Lindsay Seim playing a younger version of her character, but her cheery attitude is still welcomed. Whannell and Sampson are still great as the comic relief, even making for a legitimately touching moment when they discuss how Elise’s death affected them, considering their line of work.

Despite its seriously goofy moments, particularly the climactic encounter with the Red-Faced Demon, it still did wonders at producing scares through more classical means. Now, James Wan’s old-school sensibilities when it comes to horror only fully bloomed in The Conjuring, which came out shortly before this film did; the original Insidious showed a good progression towards that, but still a little frayed around the edges. This is a sequel that producer Jason Blum (yes, it’s another one of his productions) and it shows, especially with how the camera and editing have shifted between films. For some reason, they decided to go into found footage-style cinematography, primarily in a scene where Specs and Tucker are investigating Parker’s old house with their camcorders. Now, while that scene in it of itself felt unnecessary, the found footage mechanics snuck into the editing as well. In a lot of the Paranormal Activity films, especially the earlier ones, the editing would look a bit jumpy like moments of dead air were just cut right out of it. We have the same effect here, except not during the scene with POV camera footage. As a result, we have a film that feels like it wants to be found footage but isn’t.

Then again, this being shot in exactly the same way as the original is kind of excusable. After all, this film takes a different direction in comparison. Instead of focusing so much on the atmosphere and being playing like a tribute to the traditional haunted house flicks, this is more like a supernatural possession thriller that pays tribute to a different kind of horror film. Namely, Josh/Parker’s motivation feels like elements of Red Dragon got poured into the script, crossed with The Cell given how he is taken down in the end. I like Whannell’s talents when it comes to carrying narrative through a film series, and admittedly this film does a decent job as a follow-up to the original in terms of plot. However, that affinity isn’t enough to excuse how this film feels like Wan’s influences are being pushed even closer to the surface than previously. Then the film gets to Parker’s mother, and suddenly it becomes a cross between Sleepaway Camp and Mommie Dearest. Unless you are a literal miracle worker, that combination is always going to look silly. Really, the only consistent element that has survived from the first film is the soundtrack… and given how that includes the histrionic string section, which still made me laugh right at the title sequence, that’s probably the last thing I was anxious to see return for this movie.

All in all, it’s a good follow-up to the original, but not that great a horror film on its own; it left me at a similar point that The Marked Ones did last year. The characters are still engaging, the story feels like a good way to continue from the previous installment and there are some decent moments of suspense, but ultimately it feels like it has strayed way too far from what made the first film good in the first place. Now, we have unnecessary found footage elements and performances and plot developments that clash heavily with the atmospheric tone the film is still trying to set.

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