Back in 2010, the first chapter of this (now apparently on-going) series appeared in theaters. While you don’t have to see that film to appreciate the new one (in fact don’t, it really was quite awful), you might just want to read this review ro see what it was that you missed (not much as it turns out).
Traditionally speaking, making a horror film is relatively easy; you use odd camera angles, mood lighting, “spooky” lighting, and have the “dangerous” person make threatening faces. Throw in some ominous shadows, haunting figures (zombies, werewolves), ghost-like apparitions (someone in Goth or very stylized period-stylized makeup) or have the “spooky” character constantly hidden in shadows or only appear in B&W. Truthfully, the plot or story is almost secondary (have teens get slashed to death, young children behaving malevolently, dead come to life, etc.). Then, of course you can lead characters into dark places and have stuff jump out at them, which will most assuredly scare the audience (especially if you combined such “gotcha” moments with the afore-mentioned “scary” music, darkened, shadowed figures, and mood lighting).
Unfortunately, while it is technically possible to use any (or all) of the above to create a “horror” film, all of those are just the mechanics of the film, the true craft in this genre, is by developing an actual story, and working all of the details out to be scary, not just to seem scary. In short, you need to start with that part of the story that is truly frightening, and then working it so that it reaches that responsive core within your audience to successfully scare the crap out of them. Simply assembling the proper elements in one place won’t do it anymore. Today’s audiences are far too sophisticated.
Too bad, Director James Wan didn’t know that when assembling this grade-“B” ‘80s throwback bit of nonsense at us. In this barely watchable tale, married couples Josh and Renai (Wilson and Byrne) have a (superficially) happy family with their three young children. However when a tragedy strikes their young son, Dalton (Simpkins) shortly after they move into a new house Josh and Renai begin to experience things that science cannot explain. Frightened, they move, only the “strangeness” follows them to the new place. They then call in a psychic who informs them that it’s not the house that’s haunted, it’s their son.
Oooo — sounds scary, eh?
Only not so much, the problem is that someone told Wan that loud, screechy music is scary, so he loads up on it so much that it has the effect of nails-on-a-blackboard, screachiness that makes the audience run out into the lobby before their eardrums bleed. What passes for “story” is weak to the point of being transparent, and the action is all telegraphed by years of having seen virtually everything in some other film (including the devil character confronted in the climax looking very much like Darth Maul via the X-Men’s Nightcrawler).
Sure, this film will make you feel uncomfortable, and cause you to leap in your seats, but isn’t so much horror as what cinematically passes for horror. There is nothing that reaches into the self of being and makes the audience ever believe in the core of the threat. There is no real “suspension of belief” that brings the viewers into the film’s action (especially when the music keeps bring them out of the film). All of the characters are simply caricatures of who we pre-suppose these people would look like. Nope. This one didn’t do it for us at all.
Read a review of Insidious: Chapter 2.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.