The Insidious Sequels – 6WH

Insidious is that other James Wan franchise featuring demons, a ghost hunter team, psychics, and Patrick Wilson. It hasn’t spawned a cinematic universe like The Conjuring (er, yet), but there are now five entries in the series, and I haven’t seen any of the sequels. I don’t tend to be enthusiastic for sequels, so watching them all in the past few days might seem like a bad idea, but I really like the original (even if it gets confused with all the other one word franchises that started around the same time – Sinister, Ouija, the aforementioned Conjuring movies, etc…) and as it turns out, the sequels are perfectly cromulent. There’s some diminishing returns, for sure, but I enjoyed myself well enough… Before we get to far, minor Spoilers for the original Insidious (which is recommended! If you haven’t seen that, go watch it before reading this…)

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 4 – The Insidious Sequels

Insidious: Chapter 2 – Picks up where the original Insidious left off. Young Daulton has been rescued from his coma by his Remote Viewing father, but he may have brought something back with him from the other side (er, sorry, the “Further”), and the family is still plagued by spooky happenings.

Insidious: Chapter 2

James Wan returned for this sequel (the same year he released The Conjuring), and by this point, he’s got his box of tricks well established. It’s all stuff you’ve seen before, so it can’t help but be a little less effective this time around. There’s only so much atmosphere that that fog machines and dry ice can provide before the Further begins to seem a little passé. However, they do this thing where they recontextualize a bunch of stuff that happened in the first movie, and it all fits pretty well. Not sure if it was something that was originally planned (thus, perhaps, justifying the “Chapter 2” subtitle) or if it’s just a retcon, but it works pretty well either way. It’s not quite as good as the first movie, but it’s a worthy followup that’s worth watching. **1/2

Insidious: Chapter 3 – The end of Chapter 2 didn’t leave a ton of room for sequels, so here we end up with something of a prequel that focuses on a different family dealing with incursions from the Further. It basically tells the story of how the psychic Elise met her sidekicks (a few years before the events of the first movie).

Insidious: Chapter 3

At this point, the series shifts into a sorta psychic procedural with the ghost hunting team of Elise, Specs, and Tucker. Lin Shaye had already anchored the franchise thus far, and as it turns out, she’s got the gravitas to survive the shift to a completely different narrative. It helps that Stefanie Scott and Dermot Mulroney are able to sell the family in trouble well enough to keep things moving. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson are along for the ride. Their ghost hunter sidekick characters are so funny because they serve basically no purpose in any of these movies and never really help, but, for some unknown reason, they remain endearing and fun to watch.

After having collaborated with James Wan on several Saw movies and having written and starred in the first two Insidious movies, Leigh Whannell steps into the directors chair for the first time. His later efforts would be more successful, but this is a perfectly cromulent debut. It’s not going to light the world on fire, but it gets the job done, and while there’s an overreliance on jump scares and stingers, Whannell is at least good at crafting them, so he lands a few before they start to wear you down. Certainly not a perfect movie, and the series has gotten pretty silly by this point, but it’s still pretty entertaining and well crafted. **

Insidious: The Last Key – This time it’s personal! Elise the psychic and her sidekicks take on a job in the New Mexico house where she grew up. Snore.

This is the sort of thing that any and every procedural TV show eventually resorts to: after years of fighting baddies, they finally confront the serial killer/international conspiracy/demon that explains something mysterious from their past (i.e. my mother wasn’t killed by a mugging, it was an international conspiracy with ties to the White House! Her killing was the whole reason I became a cop in the first place, and this time it’s personal! Snooore!) It’s usually saved for a season finale and perhaps even involves a cliffhanger. Fortunately, we’re spared the cliffhanger bit, but this is a narrative device that tends to annoy me, and this is no different.

Insidious: The Last Key

There’s a moment, about halfway through the movie, where I thought they may have taken an actual chance in moving the franchise (or at least, this movie) in a different direction – one that’s less about the Further and more about human monsters (another narrative device that doesn’t always work for me, but it was genuinely surprising here, and I was willing to go with it). Alas, that lasts about five minutes before they break out the lanterns, dry ice, and fog machines again, and Elise confronts the demon who killed her mother, snooooore.

Sorry that I keep falling asleep while writing this and snoring. I should get one of those CPAP machines or something. Anyway, I didn’t totally hate this (it’s a testament to the ghost hunting team’s acting that I’m not entirely annoyed by their general uselessness and awkward jokes), but it’s definitely the low point in the series, and fortunately, it’s almost completely disconnected from the rest of the series, so you can skip it. *1/2

Insidious: The Red Door – The family from the first two films returns for one last battle with the demons that live beyond the red door. Patrick Wilson returns to the franchise, this time behind the camera as well, with his directorial debut.

Insidious: The Red Door

And after the missteps of The Last Key, this represents something of a return to form (that form being: solid horror programmer that’s entertaining enough). It takes place nine years after the second film; the kid is all growned up and has terrible long hair, and Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne have divorced (which made me chuckle, they weren’t exactly the greatest couple, though in fairness, he was possessed by a monster and/or hypnotized to the point of recklessness most of the time). The hypnosis put on both Wilson and his character’s kid is starting to break down, and as the kid goes to college, he starts to see strange things and draws strange pictures of red doors in art class.

It’s all more of the same and sure, there’s diminishing returns here, but the new settings, characters, and the introduction of daddy issues actually work for the series, even if it’s all a bit clichéd. Look, if you’ve gotten this far in the series, you’ll probably enjoy this one (at least better than The Last Key). The only real drawback is the relative lack of Elise and her sidekicks (they show up in YouTube videos that the college kids watch). It’s a fitting ending for the series, even if I’m sure there’ll be more movies and/or spinoffs in the future (this was pretty successful at the box office). Can you imagine the Conjuring/Insidious crossover that’s almost certainly going to happen in a few years? Anyway, this is fine, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, even if the franchise has gotten pretty creaky and strained by this point. **1/2

I enjoyed this series more than the ratings might indicate, even though the original Insidious is still clearly the best… They don’t have a lot of thematic heft and they’re somewhat repetitive, but they’re solid programmers that entertain well enough.

Hard to believe we’re more than halfway through the Six Weeks of Halloween… stay tuned, we’ve got some Giallo movies and Nunsploitation coming soon.

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