[Movie Review] Insidious Chapter 2

tl;dr version: I was very disappointed by Insidious 2.

If you've seen the end of Insidious--and I suggest you go do that before reading this review, because hello, spoilers!--you may be a bit befuddled by the trailer above. I know I was. Josh killed Elise at the end of the movie, and the final scene implied that something equally terrible was seconds away from happening to Renai as the movie cut off. So surely it should be very obvious to the Lambert family that "something's wrong with Daddy", as one of the little boy wonders in the trailer.

But no, apparently. In Insidious 2, the Lambert family tries to go back to their daily lives as if Elise wasn't murdered in their living room and Josh isn't obviously possessed. And this coming from the family that impressed views by actually trying to move away from their obviously haunted house.

The one big pro of the movie is that Renai's insistence upon denying the obvious gave the movie time for a subplot starring the minor characters from the first movie--Lorraine, Specs, and Tucker--and Elise's replacement a new character named Carl. As I'm fond of Lorraine--there are far too few strong female characters of the middle-aged variety--this was pretty awesome.

What was not awesome about this subplot, however, was the utter weirdness between Specs and Tucker. Yes, there was a lot of bickering in the first movie between them, and I'm sure there were at least a few viewers totally on board with that ship. But Insidious 2 made it weird. There was quite a bit of subtext, but not the good kind. Not the "we have sexual tension" kind, but the "LOL, these nerdy guys have sexual tension!!!1!" kind. Like they were just cashing in on a joke at the expense of, you know, actual character development. Which is completely inappropriate in a movie that's trying to be scary.

What was even less awesome was the ultimate revelation of the villain's story, which constitutes Major Complain #1 for me. To condense, the old woman from the Further was born a boy. The character, however, was not trans*--or at least not clearly so--rather, the mother (the woman in white in the trailer above) forced the little boy to wear wigs, dresses, and identity as female and beat him after an incident when he insisted that he was a boy. Then, at some point in his adult life, his mother began forcing him to murder women; it's not entirely clear what the motive for these crimes was other than "Ain't she evil, guys?"; finally, shortly before dying, the character was hospitalized for an attempted self-castration, which seems to imply that the angry child who insisted that he was a boy eventually grew up to identify as a woman (or perhaps regretted being born a male).

In other words, it was super confusing. As in, I have no idea what pronouns to use for this character. As in, I have no idea if this character was a transsexual woman or a man who dressed in drag to appease his abusive mother. As in, I have no idea what the hell the writers thought they were doing with this character.

What's obvious is that they always intended for "the old woman" to be a biological male; the person who played the character in the first movie (the role was recast between films) was a man. It can then be assumed that it was intended to be transsexual.

What isn't obvious is why they opted to invoke two kinds of unfortunate implications:
  1. the villain is a transwoman and a serial killer
  2. abuse (including forced nontraditional gender identification) turned the villain into a serial killer
Nor do I understand why they didn't opt for what seemed to me to be the obvious route: make the mother the real villain. The woman was beating her son and forcing him to identify as a girl when he clearly felt he was a boy, and she ultimately managed to get him to murder a whole host of young women. There's your villain, guys!

Frankly, I would have been much more interested in watching a movie in which the Bride in Black (i.e., the old woman) was slowly revealed to be harmless to the Lambert family and just wanted a chance to live (as a man?) again, while the mysterious woman in the white gown turned out to be the truly axe-crazy one.

Alas, they went with this weirdly heteronormative shit instead.

Which brings me to Major Complaint #2. Insidious 2 takes everything remotely scary from Insidious and either ditches it completely or ruins it through unnecessary explanation.

The demon from the first movie didn't show up for so much as a second. The Doll Girls and their family failed to make an appearance. The creepy black-haired ghost/demon was given extra scenes that made his actions all about taunting the male protagonist (whereas he was implied to be fixated on the female protagonist in the first movie). The nighttime break-in scene is explained away. A prologue-esque scene was created for little reason other than to explain that away, too; it also served to create a pretty nonsensical plot hole about the exact nature of the Further and how it deals with time.

Basically, Insidious 2 was little more than an hour or two of the characters tying up Insidious's loose ends. It wasn't very scary, it wasn't very funny, and it just wasn't very good.

And, last but not least, it had the single most shameless sequel hook I've ever seen.

On the plus side, the sequel hook implies that Insidious 3 will be a more original story. (But then again, I was totally off track with my impression of Insidious's sequel hook.) So I probably will see the movie when it comes out, if only because so few horror movies make it into my local theatre... but I am just not amused by this whole thing.

At the end of the day, I'm rather inclined to pretend there's no such thing as Insidious 2.

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