'Insidious Chapter 2': Offers up old fashioned scares
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
The old-school horror-movie fan in me has mixed feelings about the new-fangled so-called "scary movies" what with their sadism and grungy basements and all that, such as "Saw" and its ilk. So this old-school fan ought to be sort of thrilled about the likes of "Insidious" and its brand-new sequel "Insidious Chapter 2," which, despite being directed by "Saw" co-creator James Wan, goes for ghost-heavy supernatural scares like they used to make rather than the self-mutilation and torture-porn gore tactics that some proud-to-be-fogeys complain have hijacked the genre.
But given the product that results from these attempts, I'm not a total convert. "Insidious Chapter Two," after an 80s-set backstory prologue, takes up directly from where its predecessor ends, with the haunted Lambert family trying to deal with the wreckage that left psychic Elise in...well, it helps if you've seen the first movie and you know it ended with the character played by Lin Shaye in bad shape. But hey, Shaye's back for this journey into fear and its own backstory, as are the original Lamberts--Patrick Wilson as devoted dad Josh, Rose Byrne as oddly-spelled wife Renai, Barbara Hershey as Josh's mom, and Ty Simpkins and Andrew Astor as Josh and Renai's boys...in short, the gang's all here and still haunted. The movie starts in with the creepy false alarms and the mirror shots and hallway glimpses of malevolent spirits from the land of the dead right off the bat. At some junctures one might mistake the movie for "Night Of The Irritating Self-Activating Children's Toys." Soon, the Lambert's realize that their new temp residence (by this movie's lights, there seem to be an unusual number of Gothic-style houses in the greater Los Angeles area, because that's pretty much the only kind of building you see in this thing) is not the problem, but that the evil is coming from within. The audience's appreciative laugh when Wilson's Josh is seen framed in a backlit silhouette in a doorway at the screening I attended was a kind of proof, for me, that the movie was giving a horror crowd what it wants.
So yes, the scares are there...or rather the jolts and shocks. There's very little here that's going to haunt the viewer when he or she leaves the theater, or even make him or her think just a little bit. Sure, there are some pretty intense set pieces, but they're, um, offset by often ridiculous derivativeness (the movie's climax, and this might strike some as a spoiler so skip down to the next graf if necessary, mixes either "Homicidal" or "A Reflection of Fear," I'm not sure exactly which, with a very strong dose of "The Shining").
There's also the oft-risible quality of the dialogue, as in, for instance "It's been a long time since I felt real pain. I miss it. But not as much as I miss inflicting it on others." Aiiieee. So while the old-fashioned scares are there, they come at a price that's higher than that of the movie ticket, if you ask me.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.