After the surprise success of The Conjuring this summer, horror fans worldwide have been clamoring to see the latest release from James Wan. However, the first Insidious divided fans and critics alike with a tonal shift midway that some found to be too absurd. Furthermore, the sequel has been receiving mixed reviews, so I was worried that Insidious 2: Chapter 2 would fall victim to the inevitable drop in quality that all horror franchises suffer. Could Wan's latest ever hope to match the scares of the first film?
At the end of the first film, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) came back from the astral plane with his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and something else that murdered the spiritualist Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye). After an extremely effective prologue that delves into Josh's past, Wan opens in a police station, where Renai (Rose Byrne) is being questioned over her husband’s involvement with Elise’s death. Meanwhile, the Lambert family move into their grandmothers (Barbara Hershey) house to recover from their ordeal, but it appears that the evil spirits who plagued them before are not finished with them just yet...
Insidious 2 makes the unusual choice to start directly after the end of the first film, showing us how the aftermath of those events continues to affect the Lambert family. The only other horror sequel I can think of that does this is John Carpenter's Halloween 2, which had a great concept, but ultimately wasn't as effectively executed. I found it fascinating to see the Lambert's story picked up from where we last left off and it made me wonder why more horror auteurs don't attempt this.
Comparisons with The Conjuring will of course be rife, but while Insidious 2 may have fewer big scare moments, it impresses with a focus on storytelling that has become so rare in the horror genre. If The Conjuring was Wan's calling card as an accomplished director, then Insidious 2 is an incredible showcase of a screenwriter at his peak. Long-time collaborator and screenwriter Leigh Whannell opens the film with a chilling prologue and then keeps the tension going throughout. The relentless pace is maintained from the outset through the use of alternating storylines; While half of Insidious 2 deals with Renai’s growing realisation that something is not right with her husband – errrrr dur! – the other half follows the bumbling paranormal investigators from the first film on their quest to find the root cause of the evil that has emerged from The Further. Just as you fear that you may grow tired of one scenario, the action immediately switches to another horrifying set piece, which keeps you constantly nervous throughout.
Wan does an excellent job of shooting these set pieces to maximise the chill factor through use of creepy lighting and perfect timing. Corpses under sheets have never looked this scary and anyone with a fear of hospitals should probably not even attempt to watch this film, but one scene in particular, involving hordes of the dead ripping at the bed sheets of the young boy Dalton, is one of the scariest things I’ve seen in the cinema for some time. What truly marks Wan out as one of the best horror directors around though is the way he frames each shot. In almost every scene, the positioning of the camera forces you to scan the entire screen in fear of what may appear and it is this ingenious use of psychological horror which makes each of Wan’s films truly terrifying.
None of this would be effective though if the film wasn’t believable but luckily for Wan, the accomplished cast from the original movie all return once more for another harrowing ghostly experience. Rose Byrne is now officially the new ‘Scream Queen’ and regular Wan favourite Patrick Wilson is given more to do here with a darker character arc. I also have to commend Ty Simpkins, purely for being the only child actor who actually gives a believable horror based performance without annoying the hell out of me. The new addition of psychic Carl (Steve Coulter) injects fresh blood into the cast and his method of contacting the dead through the roll of a dice is surprisingly effective. Despite this though, it’s hard to match the raw charisma of Elise from the first film, who was played to perfection by Lin Shaye.
Alongside the old cast, recurring themes also reappear and it’s fascinating to see how Wan and Whannell incorporate each of these into every film. Old scary ladies, haunted houses, creepy children’s games and psychic spiritualists all return here, yet you never feel like the pair are running out of ideas as they way these elements are handled is always fresh and new.
Insidious 2 sees the duo attempt to introduce comedic moments into the narrative, acting as a tension release but these felt rather hit and miss to me. Whannell himself plays one half of the paranormal investigative team who provide most of the humour and while I was surprised to find myself laugh with them on occasion, I personally find that this usually detracts from the atmosphere that these films try to create. Thank god then that Wan and Whannell weren’t tempted to shift completely from horror to comedy, a problem far too many franchises have succumbed to in the past.
Ultimately, I was seriously impressed by Insidious 2, which I would easily rank as one of the best horror sequels ever made. Wan and Whannell have done an incredible thing here; not only have they managed to pay homage to the original film without it becoming a carbon copy, but the new script actually adds even more depth to the series mythology through its unexpected twists and turns. Everything comes together with a natural flow between the two movies and it makes you wonder whether the events of Insidious 2 were planned from the first films inception. To give away any more than that would spoil your enjoyment but to truly appreciate each narrative surprise, you must see the original first.
Insidious 2: Chapter 2 wraps up the overarching storyline of the first two instalments in an unexpected yet satisfying way, yet hard core fans of the franchise will still be overjoyed by the ending, which hints at the return of one of the first films signature characters. Whatever direction the Insidious franchise takes though, one thing is certain; James Wan is steadily becoming the best horror director of our generation. Let’s just pray that Wan will return to the genre he’s become known for after his foray into blockbuster making with the upcoming Fast and the Furious 7. There’s still plenty of life left in the Insidious series yet. Would a cross-over with The Conjuring be too much to ask for?
Was Insidious 2 as good as you hoped it would be or were you massively disappointed? And what are your thoughts on James Wan as a director? Let me know what you think by commenting, liking and sharing below.