Back when Insidious was fresh, I wrote this review proclaiming the film a "sign of health in modern horror." Repeat viewings have only strengthened this praise, but its positive qualities simply don't carry over in this ho-hum, but amazingly box office successful follow-up. It's surprising this sequel has an association via director and lead to the vastly superior The Conjuring (2013), review here, released theatrically a short time prior. Although director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell aren't entirely to blame. A potential sea change in this brand of horror could be the cause of this follow-up feeling too overfamiliar.
Despite its intriguing premise, Insidious 2 is too self-indulgent, rolling out vital twists without much more consideration than any of its other beats. Insidious geared itself toward a grand reveal of a parallel spirit dimension and this build toward something so ominous greatly helped smooth over the film's issues with barreling through finer details. There's nothing that mysterious in this sequel which, even if the film was on par with the first, would relegate it to feeling smaller. The biggest reveal, again played out with little sense of importance, just leads to the narrative messily skipping across dimensions and timelines. And not to get too into spoiler territory, but Lin Shayne does make an appearance only for her character's vast knowledge and circumstance to be completely wasted.
The most chilling scene, Barbara Hershey's Lorraine recalling a brush with an apparition while working as a hospital nurse, is also the simplest scare illustrating the "less is more" mantra that made the first film more effective. It's not uncommon for a sequel to branch out, but the story soon bloats, becoming laughable at times, causing any concern for the characters and unsettling atmosphere to become muddled. Insidious did a fantastic job of straddling this line, never quite becoming so far-fetched as make one become very aware they're sitting in front of a horror movie. So in a very "theatrical horror show" sense this sequel succeeds, though you'll probably likely forget about it soon afterward much like other labored ghost flicks in recent years.
One of the best horror films of 2013, The Conjuring, is really to blame for my sour reaction to Insidious 2. By that's film's precise simplification of the poltergeist formula, Wan's effort here feels antiquated in all its bloat. It'll be interesting to see how things shake out between the eventual sequels of both series. If Conjuring 2 keeps up the quality and beats Insidious 3 to the box office, the third coming of "The Bride in Black" might perform significantly less if it continues this over-the-top routine. Of course, this 6.8 IMDB-rated sequel made a shit pot full of money, so what do I know? If you're a fan of the first Insidious, best remain content considering it as a standalone and view The Conjuring as James Wan's logical evolution. Just pray the recent news of three Conjuring spin-offs doesn't mar that series.