Monday, May 19, 2014

Farther Into the Further

As I mentioned a few months back in my review of The Conjuring, I will always root for James Wan. 

Even if he continues to deny me gratuitous shots of Patrick Wilson’s rear. 

Quick Plot: When we last left the Lamberts, astral projectionist Dalton was safely returned to the realm of the living, but dad Josh might have brought back something ominous and aimed it squarely at Lin Shaye's psychic investigator Elise. Before picking up at that fateful night, Chapter 2 takes us back to 1986 when an adolescent Josh was first learning how to forget his supernatural talents.

Let's just get this out of the way: the scariest thing about the occasionally scary, occasionally silly sequel is in how it shares something in common with A League of Their Own.




Look, I understand that both Lin Shaye and Geena Davis have very distinctive voices. Asking a young (or old) lookalike to capture that timber ain't easy, so dubbing over replacement actress's voice makes sense. 

It's just also really freaky.

Anyway, the flashback just reminds us that Josh Lambert has some astral talents, although the Josh Lambert we see now might actually be possessed by Parker Crane, a troubled serial killer who met young Josh when his doctor mom (Barbara Hershey in the present, House of the Devil's Jocelin Donahue thankfully not dubbed by Barbara Hershey in flashback form) took him to the hospital where Crane committed suicide. Or maybe it's Crane's even more deranged mother, the kind of Sleepaway Camp-esque harpie who never met a makeup cake she didn't love.

Still with me?

With the full Insidious team returning, Chapter 2 is a genuine continuation of the story first begun in 2010. That installment proved quite fruitful at the box office making it something of a no-brainer to slap on a sequel. Thankfully, Wan and screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell put some effort in expanding the story, rather than, as so may horror followups are want to do, simply repeating the formula beat for beat.

I will never forgive you, Home Alone 2: Lost In Let’s Just Substitute Every Detail People Loved About Our FIrst Film With Something Similar And Waste The Talents of Tim Curry.

Yes, we still have Kali’s baby monitor providing ambient scares, old houses opening creaking doors without help, and controversial comic relief in the form of Whannell and Angus Sampson’s ghostbusting team. The trademarks continue, but the story has a new direction to take in going both forward and back. 

Does it work? That question will probably most depend upon where you fell on Insidious. For me, I found it refreshing in how Wan managed to avoid so many genre cliches (i.e., characters turning on lights when entering dark rooms and moving out of houses that are clearly haunted) and genuinely unnerving in its first hour of unique jump scares. Its surreal ending didn’t work for me, but I could still appreciate the overall product as solid entertainment.

Chapter 2 has the same tone as its predecessor but works quite hard to develop the ghosts that have been hunting the Lambert males with typical Wan creepy clues. Eerie dolls show up in abandoned hospitals, a grand piano mysteriously plays a haunting tune, and a bitter Bette Davis channeling ghost screeches at anyone with the nerve to investigate her otherworldly crimes. This all reveals something of a Psycho-inspired serial killer backstory that feels a little too complicated for the fairly simple ghost story it’s supporting.

Once it establishes its premise, the film cuts between Renai (the very worried Rose Byrne)’s attempts to protect her children, Josh’s creepy is-he-or-isn’t-he-possessed mystery, Barbara Hershey & the ghosthunters (band name pending) investigating the past, and flashbacks (or maybe ‘furtherbacks’) to Josh’s initial meetings with Parker and his mommy dearest. It’s a lot, and as a result, the Parker stuff doesn’t have enough time to register much. Considering it’s ultimately the device meant to fuel the scare-factor of the end, it’s a minor shame. 

High Points
Joseph Bishara, who also did the music for Insidious and The Conjuring, really makes his score count. The screaming violins are used in a unique and extremely eerie way that manages to feel fresh despite being, you know, the jump scare accompaniment to a ghost story

Low Points
Aforementioned lack of focus in the Parker Crane backstory

Aforementioned lack of Patrick Wilson’s hiney

Lessons Learned
Abandoned hospitals keep impeccable hard copies of their records

Likewise, baby dolls made in the '80s have remarkable power supplies

The living version of someone is always better

Rhode Island Reds are the manliest of dollhouses

Insidious: Chapter 2 is a true continuation of the first film's story, which is somewhat refreshing in comparison to other sequels that simply repeat their predecessors' formulas without exploring anything new. That being said, it doesn't feel quite as sharp or disciplined as The Conjuring, though some of the scares might still register the desired effect if watched in a dark and quiet room. Fans of the first film might find some enjoyment in this installment, but it’s ultimately fairly unnecessary and unremarkable. 

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