I find it pretty strange that Insidious: Chapter 2 exists in the first place, mostly because of just how unnecessary it feels. The first Insidious was amazing; an intense, enjoyable and flat out scary modern haunted house thriller that had a perfectly ambiguous ending which worked wonderfully. So I was a bit apprehensive when news that director James Wan was going ahead with a sequel. With the release of James Wan’s masterpiece, The Conjuring, just a couple months ago Insidious: Chapter 2 was looking even more redundant. Much to my surprise, Insidious: Chapter 2 is a good movie. In many ways it’s actually a great movie; smart, well written, amazingly acted but still flawed enough to not quite measure up to Wan’s previous efforts. From this point it will be impossible to discuss this film without spoiling aspects of both this and the first film so be warned.
The first Insidious was an unusually clever haunted house movie. Once it became evident that there were ghosts haunting them, the family packs up and moves away. In the first of several ingenious twists, it is revealed that it wasn’t their house that was haunted, but their now comatose son who is trapped in an out of body state. This attracts dead souls who crave life to his empty body and it has also caught the attention of a particularly brutal demon. Later in the film there is a great second twist. The dad, Josh (Patrick Wilson), already went through all of this as a child and had his memory wiped to keep him safe from the ghost of a terrifying old woman seeking to possess him. Josh returns to the spirit world to rescue his son and finds her waiting for him with the ending implying that she has followed him back.
Chapter 2 picks up right where the first one left off, with the resident exorcist of the film (Lin Shaye) dead after being killed by, presumably, the old woman. The family goes to live with grandma Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) while the police investigate her death. It’s immediately clear to the mother, Renai (Rose Byrne), that whatever is after them isn’t finished yet while Josh is obviously not acting right. While this is going on, Lorraine and the surviving exorcist team up to discover the identity of the old woman.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is actually quite scary. It shines at the building of tension and dread, which James Wan is incredible at portraying. The ghost designs, while legitimately horrifying at times, don’t quite compare to the demon from the first film. The movie is also awkwardly structured, reaching the point of exhaustion by the end but that is a side effect of Chapter 2 essentially being an extended third act. The real strength of the film is the writing. It manages to expand the self contained universe and the story from the first film in an interesting way and the characters all act consistent with the predecessor. The second half of the film reveals an elaborate narrative puzzle between both movies that is immensely satisfying to piece together. You will definitely benefit from watching the two back to back.
Even if the writing wasn’t this smart and inventive, Insidious: Chapter 2 would still work because James Wan is amazing at directing horror. The special effects and cinematography are gorgeous, used to a minimalist effect that ramps up the tension considerably for every scene. As the camera moves slowly through the dark hallways and dimly lit rooms, you’re constantly looking over every inch of the screen, desperately trying to find where the next scare is going to come from. This kind of methodical cinematography works because the resulting scares are so ridiculously rewarding.
It’s fortunate that the entire cast is up to the challenge of acting terrified through the entire film which really can’t be an easy feat. Particularly Rose Byrne, proving herself to be one of the most underrated actress in the business though she is underused for the most part. From the trailers if you guessed that Patrick Wilson is not quite himself, your not wrong. His slow burn to darkness is expertly portrayed but when it’s time for him to actually go crazy a la The Shining, I can appreciate how hard he is trying but that’s not really his best work. The supporting cast is likable enough except for the comic relief paranormal investigators who were the worst part of the first film and are given a much larger role in Chapter 2.
When all is said and done, Insidious: Chapter 2 is good but falls short of its predecessor. It works because it’s scary. James Wan was born to direct horror and it shows because the movie always keeps you on the edge of your seat through all of the creepiness and you will jump at times. This is the kind of horror movie that will stick with you as you try to fall asleep at night. The spooky imagery alone is enough to make your skin crawl but when combined with a seriously excellent script, Insidious: Chapter 2 becomes one of the better horror movies of recent years.