When I saw James Wan’s “Insidious” back in 2011, I really had no idea what I was walking into. The trailer looked scary and non-generic compared to many of the horror films that were being released that year so I thought, “why not?” It would later become one of my most highly-recommended horror films and one that still gives me shivers to this day. In “Insidious: Chapter 2” Wan comes back to the story and universe he and writer/actor Leigh Whannell created and while it is nice to see a bit of closure to the story and further development of the main characters, the film just doesn’t have as gripping an effect as the first one did – but by no means does that mean it’s awful.
“I Went into that Place to Get Our Son Back…”
“Insidious: Chapter 2” begins almost immediately after the first film ends: Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) has returned from the spirit realm known as “The Further” with his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) but a malignant presence has followed him back into the real world and it begins slowly taking control of Josh, turning him into something – or someone, rather – completely different. And while he insists to his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) that everything is alright, she soon realizes that what was haunting her family before is not yet finished with them.
Armrest-Gripping Tension and Suspense
I’ve said it before and I’ll gladly say it again: James Wan is a master in horror. I’m not sure if I should label him as the new John Carpenter but man, can he make your skin crawl! Right from the opening, Wan wastes no time in creating a chilling atmosphere and placing you right in the heat of it. Wan’s direction is absolutely amazing here as he doesn’t give away too much about a scene and lets you use your imagination to guess how things will play out. Two areas I have to give praise for are the set design (especially lighting and use of space) and make-up. Wan and cinematographer John R. Leonetti (who also did the cinematography for Wan’s previous film, “The Conjuring”) frame each scene perfectly so that you only see what they want you to see and the ways in which space and blocking are used in the film make it so that you never see what’s coming until it’s right in your face.
Patrick Wilson really is the star of the show here, as both his psychological and physical deterioration increase as the film progresses and you can really see it in his eyes that he’s not the father his family are so familiar with. This film operates much like a classic horror film in that little-to-no computer effects are used but everything is on-set special effects and make-up. Wilson’s face towards the film’s climax looks so aged and frail that you get the impression he’ll fall over at any second. As well, Rose Byrne is much better this time around as she struggles to cope with what her family has experienced and how she will ever move on from it and Byrne really expresses her character’s pain in a believable sense.
Maybe for Next Time…
Where the film falters, however, is in the writing. As early as the first five minutes I found myself cringing at some of the acting and dialogue – it just felt off compared to the rest of the film. As well, you really would have had to see the first film to know certain characters and events, otherwise you run a high risk of getting lost in the mix of things. I liked how this time around, there existed a sub-plot which acted as an investigatory segment into what followed Josh out of “The Further” but it really diluted the central plot of the film. And while the film’s climax takes the terror to another level, certain elements and scenes closely mirrored “The Shining” which ultimately stripped the film of some of its originality.
James Wan really is a man of many talents. For him to release two major horror films in the same year – the same season, no less – and have them be as successfully terrifying as they were is no easy feat. Though you may need to watch (or re-watch) the first film to really understand most of what’s going on, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is a satisfying sequel which doesn’t just re-hash what we’ve seen before but continues an already-frightening story and takes it to places the first never dared to go, even at the expense of plot development. Do yourself a favour, though: sleep with the lights on after seeing this. Trust me.