Having only seen Insidious days ago, the memory of it is fresh in my mind as I write this review of its sequel, Insidious: Chapter 2. The things I liked about Insidious were its constant tension, the scares, and the first two-thirds of the movie, where things happen logically and organically, giving the movie a terrific feel. Well, at least until it fell apart in the third act. It was a little uneven at times, but it more than got the job done, being a fairly entertaining piece of horror and suspense. I walked into Insidious: Chapter 2 hoping upon hope that the third act collapse wouldn’t happen again, and I hoped that the scare quotient would remain about the same. To quote Marty DiBergi from This is Spinal Tap, “And I got that; I got more… a whole lot more.” But hey – enough of my yakkin’. Let’s get into it.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is an all-out scarefest, with tension aplenty and scares galore. Writer/actor Leigh Whannell seems to have fixed everything wrong about Insidious, making a more even-keeled, thorough, and stable film. He gives us just enough of the story and shares sparse glimpses of what’s really happening in order to make us really pay attention and to keep our expectations (and anticipation) high. This is a movie that is, in every regard, a companion piece to its predecessor, building off of what’s gone before and bringing a good story along to tie everything together. Even though a lot of things are a little too pat or easily wrapped up, it still has a much better feel than Insidious, which felt like it was going to go off the rails at any minute. Instead, Insidious: Chapter 2 manages to incorporate backstories previously hinted at in the first film, defining our characters and giving them roots by which we can understand them.
In the film’s opening scene, we see a little bit of this history, as a young Josh Lambert (Garrett Ryan, played as an adult by Patrick Wilson) gets interviewed by paranormal researcher Carl (Steve Coulter) and medium Elise Ranier (Lindsay Seim, played as an adult by Lin Shaye). His mother, Lorraine (Jocelin Donahue, played as an adult by Barbara Hershey) has summoned them because Josh is scared of dark forces in their house; while under hypnosis, Josh leads Elise to the spiritual “hot spots” in his house, eventually culminating in spectral activity which spooks the hell out of everyone in the room.
The opening titles kick us into the present day, where we find ourselves not even days after the first film’s conclusion; Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is being questioned by a homicide detective concerning her husband’s possible involvement in an incident shown in the final scenes of Insidious. Of course, her explanation – her son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) has inherited his father’s ability to have out-of-body experiences and somehow got stuck in the space between the living and the dead (called the Further) – would seem crazy by anyone’s standards. What would you think if someone said that her husband had to leave his body in order to find their son, who was stuck in a strange netherworld? Seeing as how their house is now a crime scene, Josh and his family head back to the one place that’s still open to them: his childhood home from the opening scene. However, the question remains: when Josh went into the Further to retrieve Dalton, did he come back alone, or did he come back at all?
This question drives the entirety of the movie, which splits our characters down the middle: Renai has to deal with the possibility that her family may still be under attack, while an older Carl and Elise’s assistants Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) start investigating the spirit plaguing the Lambert family. It’s only a matter of time before the two factions cross each other, with ugly truths and frightening secrets being revealed.
For the most part, Insidious: Chapter 2 rolls along full steam ahead with frights and scares, with director James Wan casting his usual spell of constant dread over everything and composer Joseph Bishara’s discordant violins adding waves of sonic discomfort. Colors are again played with and manipulated, giving us big hints as to what’s been affected by the supernatural. Wan’s direction and Whannell’s script keep things fast-paced and tense, with an effective layer of suspense hanging in the air. You almost overanticipate the scares, and when they come, the payoffs are big. The one little niggling trouble I had with this movie is the appearance of a certain character, who dispels a lot of the tension when she pops up. If her character was written or performed differently and not as a hippy-ish mother type, the film wouldn’t have lost as much traction as it did, but it’s soon overcome and things go right back on track once she’s out of the way.
If you’ve read the Night Watch pentalogy by Sergei Lukyanenko, you may find a few similarities between the Further and the Gloom, both being a spiritual realm running parallel to the real world, draining energy from whoever steps into it. Also, there’s a nice nod to the 1980s slasher film Sleepaway Camp, if you’re like me and you draw weird corollaries between films. Regardless, Insidious: Chapter 2 improves upon Insidious in all the ways I’d anticipated by being a fun weaving between the two movies, being almost playful in its intersections. Don’t be surprised if you find your jaw dropping at how seamlessly this film works with its predecessor; it’s almost as if you could see the grin on Whannell’s face as he wrote how certain scenes from this film would interact with the first film. It’s that fun that makes Insidious: Chapter 2 worth your time.