It seems every Friday the 13th is an opportunity for Hollywood to roll out a horror movie and this year was no exception. The big sequel “Insidious: Chapter 2” opened yesterday and judging by the size of the audiences, it will likely win the weekend. It took in $20 million alone yesterday and it's word-of-mouth should carry it through Monday. It's a fun and frightening follow-up, with a good cast and lots of great scares. Still, it’s not quite as wonderful as director James Wan's superior “The Conjuring” that played this past July.
The first “Insidious” was a sleeper hit two years ago. It was a tight and disciplined horror movie up until the last half hour when it collapsed under the weight of its kitchen sink mentality, throwing in too many new ideas and frothing ghouls, all of which undermined the tight hour of story that preceded it (http://exm.nr/Qol5SS). This one unfortunately makes some similar missteps, again building to a climax in a netherworld where there are too many ghouls, a lot of half-baked ideas, and some interior logic getting tossed out the window.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to like here, even with some unnecessary excesses. It's not a truly accomplished genre standout the way "The Conjuring"was (http://exm.nr/1azLSlg), but it's still a sharp and worthy film. Director James Wan has a real knack for things that go bump in the night as well as directing actors, and he gets terrific performances from another top-notch cast. Patrick Wilson, whom he directed in both the first "Insidious" and "The Conjuring", repeats his role as the harried conduit to the insidious netherworld. He gives a doubly good performance this time around playing both the good guy and the villain of the piece. He is not only the good dad fighting the demons haunting his family, but he's channeling the demon inside who wants control of his conducive body too. He's ably assisted throughout by Rose Byrne as his long-suffering wife, and Barbara Hershey rendering the role of his savvy mom once again. Byrne's terrified eyes say more than pages of dialogue could. And having the sly Hershey in any cast is always sweet.
It’s nice to see Lin Shaye return too, as she gave the most beguiling performance in the first movie. I was worried when her ghost hunting psychic died in this film's first 15 minutes, but as in many ghost tales, no one quite remains dead. And her spirit shows up late in the game to help guide Wilson through the many twists and turns of the demon netherworld.
James Wan and Leigh Whannel did the sequel's script and they miraculously manage to fill this one with even more screams than before. And Wan’s camera work sets up those frights beautifully too. He knows just how much or how little to reveal in a frame for maximum terror. And the fact that he can wring so many scares out of scenes in the broad daylight says a lot about his directorial cleverness.
But while Wan shines in technique here, he struggles a bit with the story. It's not as tight or cogent as "The Conjuring" was. Instead, this script stumbles over some very big matters, as well as some significant smaller issues. For starters, the story can’t decide if the big baddie is the creepy serial killer or his shrew of a mother. And in that netherworld, when hero dad Wilson goes in to fight the evil, he runs into too many incarnations of the older serial killer and his meddling mom. Again, too many ghouls.
Wan also struggles with some flashbacks that drag the story down. And he doesn't have control of the dubbing in his flashback scenes either. Shaye's voice-over work clearly doesn't match the young actress playing her and it's a rare and strange technical bungle for Wan. He also overdoes some of the comic relief as well. I like the two bickering and bungling ghost hunters (Co-screenwriter Leigh Whannel and Angus Sampson) but their buffoonish behavior mars the intensity of the climax this time out.
Still, terrific scares abide in this haunted house and it sure beats similar material out there like the vacant “Dream House” two years back (http://exm.nr/Q6BsgS). Wan is a master at knowing just how to manipulate his audience to the edge of their seat. So if you’re feeling a horror Jones this Friday the 13th weekend, you’ll definitely be satisfied by this latest chapter in the “Insidious” franchise. And the last shot of the movie tees up the next movie quite nicely. I’ll bet it’ll even open on an errant Friday.