Director: James Wan; Writer: Leigh Whannell; Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Ti Simpkins, Leigh Whannell, Steve Coulter, Angus Sampson; Running time: 105 minutes; Certification: 15
Set directly after the events of the first film, as the Lambert family attempts to readjust to life after the horrifying events they experienced. Unfortunately things don’t improve for long, as Renai (Byrne) and Lorraine (Hershey) once again begin witnessing apparitions around their home, and Dalton (Simpkins) notices an eerie change in his dad, Josh (Wilson), leading to the uncovering of terrifying truths from his childhood.
Insidious blew me away when I first saw it in theaters a couple of years ago. It was one of the most genuinely frightening films I’d seen in quite some time, and remains the subject of one of my most embarrassing stories, in which I actually bruised myself from gripping so hard throughout it. It was that freaking terrifying. So it was with much due anticipation that I went along to see Insidious Chapter 2 – horror maestro James Wan’s second dose of thrills and chills this year after the excellent The Conjuring – as a double-bill with the first entry.
Without giving away any spoilers for the first film, I was quite unsure of how this was going to play out. Insidious leaves us on a chilling cliffhanger that is certainly open to a sequel, but not one that’s particularly obvious as to where it’s going to go. It’s here, therefore, where the script (penned by Wan’s fellow Australian scribe and Insidious/Saw actor Leigh Whannel) shows off its intelligence and ingenuity. While there are certainly times where the tying up of loose ends feels a little rushed and forced, ultimately the narrative is skillfully woven into the events of the first film, focusing a lot more on back story rather than relentless hauntings. It’s evident in Insidious 2 that Whannel wanted to move away slightly from straight-out horror and construct a plot that has a bit more backbone and complexity. That’s not to say the first Insidious or Saw had none of this, but there’s a definite agenda here. It’s looking to exploit the rich substance of the story by delving even further into The Further, and I’d argue that it succeeds.
Yet as intricate as the script is, what it makes up for in smarts it sacrifices for genuine scares. As mentioned, Insidious 2 focuses a lot more on the back story of the hauntings – in particular one of the entities, the creepiest of them all, ‘The Bride In Black’, It’s a bitter-sweet thing, really; I don’t know whether to love or hate the fact it’s been given an origin story, for on the one hand it provides a sense of relief knowing what and who it is, but on the other it takes away from one of the most impacting aspects of the first film. Ultimately what we want here is to be freaked out, and while the handling of this particular ghoul is still incredibly creepy and sinister, it lacks the cutting edge that it once had.
There’s a lot more comedy this time around. Paranormal investigators Specs and Tucker (played by Whannel & Sampson) return to their comedic bickering but this time vamp it up to ten, acting as a sort of Shaggy/Scooby relationship. In fact, much of their subplot plays out like an episode of Scooby Doo as they follow clues to various locations, being spooked by ghouls along the way. To say the film suffers from too much comedy would be to do it a disservice. While certainly there is lots of it here, I’d argue that it provides a quite frankly welcome relief from the treacherous malignance of the evil narrative.
What we ultimately want from Insidious Chapter 2, and indeed any horror film, is for it to be scary – but is it? More so than many. It certainly passes the horror test because Wan knows his stuff. He just understands the genre, always playing on our very deepest, most primal fears and plotting out and pacing his scares with effortlessly smart, fluid camerawork. Yet it doesn’t feel as truly evil as the first entry. You could say it’s less insidious. In the first film we never knew where the threat was coming from or why. It was just constant frights from a whole platter of different ghouls and entities, each creepier than the last, whereas this one is a little more straight-played. It will creep you out, no doubt about it. It’ll make you jump and squirm; it might even make you not want to fall asleep – but it won’t crawl under your skin and stay there.
Ultimately less scary than its predecessor, but undeniably enjoyable. Even when not at his very best, Wan has still made one of the better horror movies of the year.