I have a confession to make – I didn’t see the original Insidious in theaters when it came out. It was only when Terror Dave Fuentes asked me to review Insidious 2 that I rented it via Red Box. I watched it just two days before seeing Insidious 2 so it was very fresh in my memory – and I’m glad that it was!
I was curious as to how director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring, Saw) was going to continue the story of the beleaguered Lambert family. At the end of the original film, we saw Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) possessed by the old woman in black. Where to start in that case? Flashback!
The film opens with an extended sequence about Josh Lambert as a boy in 1986, when his mother dealt with the situation that developed around his ability to astral project. We meet a new character, Carl (Steve Coulter), who is also a psychic and was the original person Lorraine Lambert contacted. Carl contacts Elise Rainier to help him as he was in over his head.
We cut back to the present, and the main body of the film starts the day after the murder of Elise (Lin Shaye). Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is being interviewed by a policeman who is investigating the death. He is understandably skeptical of her story of ghosts and astral projection – he seems convinced Josh is the culprit, but they are still dealing with forensic evidence, so Josh is not arrested.
No time is wasted by the spirits – new occurrences happen immediately in the house, and Renai knows something is still there. Josh’s responses are perfunctory, at best, and it is clear that there is something wrong with him.
In addition to the continuing adventures of Rose and the ghosts we get a second major story line featuring our returning tech geeks, Specs (Leigh Whannell, co-writer of the film) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). As happens to me in many movies, I have a hard time keeping track of names of third string characters. They may have been named in the original movie, but I have no memory of that, even though I just saw it two days ago. Specs and Tucker visit Elise’s house, although I’m not clear on their motivation to do so. They stumble upon the video tape made of the 1986 interview with Josh; they see something in the back of the video and end up calling Carl to help them. They want Carl to contact Elise. This trio plus Lorraine Lambert (Barbara Hershey) follow Elise’s clues to an abandoned hospital and house. Eventually the two story lines merge and we rush to an adrenaline-inducing finish to the movie.
Sequels, no matter what style or genre of movie, can be problematic. Horror movies in particular have issues because once they “show the monster” they lose a lot of the original atmosphere that causes the fear in the first place. Some movies – classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th – go down what I consider the ridiculous path. The bad guy becomes almost an anti-hero – often becoming an Oscar Wilde type throwing off quips and bon mots until you are rooting for him rather than the victims. Other films, like the Saw series, just try to go for more disgusting and elaborate killings.
James Wan did a great job with this sequel. The original universe from the first film left enough room for expansion of the concept of the “further” and what happens there. Although we still had the haunted house effects, like noises in other rooms, they expanded it by more direct confrontation with the ghosts. The addition of the second major story line added two classic horror movie settings – an abandoned, haunted hospital and an abandoned, haunted house. Specs and Tucker added “found footage” elements to their story line as they were filming the hospital and house with handheld video. The story also interconnected the past and present in a very cool way.
There were a couple of flaws in the movie. I think the music is too heavy-handed. I think the scary moments aren’t enhanced by the loud, screeching strings Wan seems so fond of. I’m not sure if I’m startled because of a ghost standing behind someone or the nails-on-a-chalkboard effect of the soundtrack. I find this intriguing as the very judicial use of minimal music in The Conjuring was very powerful and effective, so he does know how to restrain himself.
Another flaw was the lack of growth in the characters, Renai in particular. I know that I’m falling for the trope of the female victim realizing her own strength and beating the bad guy, but she’s still a sad sack in this movie. She is clearly the audience viewpoint character in the film, but she just reacts to what is around her without taking any initiative of her own. Early in the film she knows that something is wrong with Josh, but she does nothing. In part it might be due to the essential rehashing of her part from the first film – the unexplainable sounds in other rooms, the baby monitor playing scary sounds and dialogue, and walking around the house with ghosts in the background. It is disappointing that she couldn’t have done something more with it, having just come away from the events in the first film.
If you’re curious as to why this is called Chapter 2, the movie ends with a nice tag that leads right into a Chapter 3.
Overall this was a great movie. I highly recommend that you see it – but cover your ears when that title card appears! Now available on Blu ray HERE!