For the purposes of this review let’s kick off with a re-cap of ‘chapter 1 (2010).’ The Lambert family are left mystified when son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) goes to sleep one night and falls into a coma, soon strange paranormal events start to occur and, at their wits end, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) call in Elise (Lin Shaye), a friend of Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), and her team of paranormal investigators. Elise promptly informs them that it’s not that the house that is haunted, the dead have locked onto the Lambert family, snatching Dalton away into the realm beyond (referred to as the The Further) in an attempt to enter the boys body and regain their own ‘life.’ The only hope for the family is for Josh to travel into The Further to rescue his son. Unfortunately The Further is filled with dangerous spirits including the particularly nasty one with his heart set on the Lambert family. Josh manages to save Dalton and bring him back, Dalton wakes from his coma, and everything is seemingly returned to normal. Unfortunately for Elise it transpires that Josh has been taken over by one of the evil spirits in The Further. He strangles her.
Chapter 2 starts straight after the events of the first film with Renai’s discovery of Elise’s body. Renai is suspicious of her husbands actions but Josh insists that a demon must of been responsible for Elise’s death and that everything is fine now. Josh moves his family into his mothers house while the police treat the family home as a crime scene, but returning to the old homestead reawakens issues surrounding Josh’s ghostly experiences in the house during his own childhood. Both Renai and Lorraine see a mysterious and chilling female figure wandering the house. Josh however insists that this is all in their imagination and that the family needs to move on from the haunting. To avoid what my be construed as a spoiler please move to the next paragraph. Josh is happy to ignore the strange woman as it is made relatively clear from early on in proceedings that this is not the real Josh, the real Josh is trapped somewhere in The Further. The later half of the film consists of the ghost hunters attempts to find out who is in possession of Josh’s body and who the mysterious woman haunting the house is.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is the kind of camped up ghost-house movie that William Castle would have been proud of. Director James Wan, writer Leigh Whannell and the returning cast have their tongues firmly planted in their bloody cheeks, and yet still manage to terrify. Most of the scares come from loud bang approach where, in rooms with many different doors, the camera moves silently one way, the protagonist goes another, the thing we think we see goes yet another way and then something busts out from a dark corner accompanied by a horrific burst of music. Chapter 2 is also filmed in an unusually sharp picture quality, which at some points during proceedings made it feel as if we had taken a trip to an experience like the London Dungeons where you run around in the dark with actors jumping out at you. Some may not think of this type of horror as sophisticated, a criticism that was levelled at the first Insidious as well as The Conjuring, but it is effective. It is also something that is hard to do consistently, which is why it is easy to say that Wan is particularly skilled in leading and misdirecting the audience. Insidious like it’s predecessor definitely takes endurance. This is the kind of film where there is no time to relax because something could jump put of the screen at you at any given moment and I could feel my heart pounding throughout.
Chapter 2 uses an interesting story device to tie in the plot of the first and second films without the need for a large amount of flashback and exposition as it turns out that things that happen in the ‘present’ in The Further are able to physically effect things that happened in the past (in what Murry has started calling the Back to the Future Part 2 (Zemeckis, 1989) approach) This was quite clever and suits me fine as I am not a fan of using large sections of previous films to start off horror sequels, as it happens to often. However those who plan to see Chapter 2 without having seen the first Insidious may find it helpful to just bite the bullet and see the first one before hand. I think the studio is aware of this and that is why they kicked off the run with double bill showings on the Thursday. I had to turn to Murry at one point and explain to him a number of things that had happened in the first film for it to make sense to him as the plots of both are quite intricately woven.
This is another ensemble horror, with everyone getting scared all over the place. Patrick Wilson stood out in particular in his role, it is clear that he enjoys working with Wan as this is his third time out. Steve Coulter is also very good as Carl, a friend of Elise who is able to use a set off special dice with letters on to contact the dead. I must say that the first half of Chapter 2 is pure terror, but that after the derelict hospital scenes in the middle the atmosphere becomes more ‘Scooby gang’ than truly scary, this is mostly due to the light humour provided by ghost hunting duo Specs and Tucker (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) who give us space to breathe in an otherwise relentless picture. The two play the same role in the first film, and I am glad to see them back, but the humour seemed slightly off the mark this time around, which might be down to their parts being somewhat squeezed in and rushed on this occasion.
The final explanation for who was attacking the family and why also felt a bit disjointed. Everything was careful put in place and matched up with the first movie but something did not feel quite right. I had my own opinion (as ever) about where the plot was going but it turned out I was completely wrong, something even Murry was surprised about. Barbara Hershey is just so creepy that I was second guessing her motives all the time and expecting an outcome more similar to Paranormal Activity 3 (Joost, Schulman, 2011). But no matter.
Insidious Chapter 2 is, needless to say, hugely influenced by Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982) and probably could not exist with out it. From The Further to the ghost hunting the Insidious films are very much like Poltergeist but with Spielberg’s propensity for childhood innocence taken away. The first Insidious is one of my favourite horror films of recent times, but I have not seen it since its release and there is a reason. Those horrible red titles put the kind of fear in me that only something like The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973) can compare to. I would find it far easier to watch Chapter 2 again because it is more of a crowd pleasing haunted fun house kind of a movie. I am sure that audiences with respond to it more, but the first is probably a slightly better film. Insidious: Chapter 2 is a flawed movie, that said it was also a highly enjoyable experience, and that is what the majority of people will be paying for. Because I’m such a big fan of Whannell/Wan (The two W’s) I am not two fussed about the issues with the movie and the criticism it will no doubt receive (Suddenly in retrospect all those critics are referring to the first film as a classic, that’s not what they said at the time) instead I am happy to sit back and watch Chapter 2 rule the box office in the hopes that it allows the duo of to keep making more awesome films.