In film, few genres give me as much joy as horror. Even the bad movies have this odd charm to them that makes them just a joy to watch. They fail so hard at being scary that the resulting entertainment is just unintended glee. When they succeed at tension building and suspense, though, there’s a whole new experience to be had. “Entertainment” isn’t really the best word to describe a good horror movie because it’s more a roller coaster than a joy ride. It’s a combination of physical responses and unrelenting dread. A successful horror movie is an entirely different experience than any other film. Sadly, successful horror movies are few and far between. Thankfully James Wan and Leigh Whannell are around to breathe new life into the horror genre.
The two got their start with what birthed the most successful horror franchise of all time, Saw. While not all the films in the series are winners, it’s undeniable that the first film helped to reshape an entire genre of film while providing one of the most ingenious plot twists of all time. Since their little torture porn, the horror duo have worked on Dead Silence (while not the best horror film, a fun throwback to campy 80’s killer doll flicks that I still enjoy) and the more recent Insidious.
The first Insidious raised the bar for me in what to expect from a horror film. The film relied on tension building in tandem with jump scares and completely forwent any gore – being released with only a PG-13 rating. Something not terribly common in horror films. Most horror films up to that point had been R-rated murder romps that featured an overabundance of jump scares and creative kills to draw in audiences. Insidious delivered something different: a truly terrifying experience. It was smart, fast, fun, and intense. This isn’t to say that it didn’t rely on jump scares, but it was able to have lasting moments of constant tension buildup beyond those loud music cues and closets flying open. Insidious set a new standard for me and its sequel had a lot to live up to.
I had high expectations for the film but, with James Wan having directed another 2013 horror film (the well-received The Conjuring which also starred Insidious’ Patrick Wilson), there was a bit of concern in whether or not this film would feel like the lovingly crafted sequel I wanted or a quick cash in to a super successful modern horror classic. I’m pleased to say that Insidious met my expectations – even exceeded them at times.
Insidious: Chapter 2 begins with a bit of back story highlighting story elements that are hinted at in the first film but never delved into. Josh Lambert had some experiences with astral projection as a child and this back story is more fleshed out in this sequel and plays heavily into the history of both films. It’s an excellent preface to the subsequent events and really helps to broaden the scope of the film. After the title card, which is pulled from the first film and “Chapter 2” fades in behind it, we’re taken to an interrogation room. Picking up almost immediately after the events of Insidious, Chapter 2 reminds us that there’s a dead medium in the Lambert house and Josh is more than likely the murderer – though with the complicated alibi of being stuck in The Further.
The next 100 minutes are filled with answers, more questions, and plenty of scares. Insidious: Chapter 2 avoids playing it safe by messing with the foundation laid in the first film. Everything that happened in the first film has some new meaning in the sequel and it’s crazy how well it works. Repurposed footage is given new life in mindblowing sequences where you’re left thinking, “If this wasn’t planned in the first film, this is damn brilliant.”
Jump scares and exposition play a much bigger role in Chapter 2 than they did in the first. We’ve already been introduced to the idea of astral projection and The Further, so this time around we’re looking to get some resolution following the cliffhanger finish of the first film. There’s still that building tension and I had chills running down my arm more than a few times during the course of Chapter 2, but lore building and fast moving thrills are a big part of the experience, too. It works, too.
The way Insidious ended could have been the end of it all and I would have been okay with it. It felt like a wonderfully fitting close to a horror film. With that, it’s nice to know that the events that followed Elise’s death don’t feel shoehorned in. There’s actually a lot of interesting happenings and the foundation they’ve built for the lore is left vacant at the end of the experience for even more adventures – though maybe absent the Lambert family.
The film also brings back Specs and Tucker, favorites of mine in the first film, and it brings them to the forefront. They’re great characters and breaths of fresh air amidst all the tension and jumps. It’s not always easy to have a balance between horror and comedy in a film, and these characters show that a balance isn’t entirely necessary. When you’re dealing with absurd and bizarre matters, absurd and bizarre characters can fit right in. Let’s face it, even when you’re facing a haunted family surrounded by horrors of unspeakable nature, you’d be glad to have a couple of oafish nerds hanging around to make light of the situation. It was nice to see them back for round two and they were as enjoyable as ever.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is more than a sequel. It’s a film so tightly knit with its predecessor that it’s almost impossible to think of the two films standing on their own anymore. With one, you cannot have the other. This sequel serves as a prequel, and interquel, and a sequel with content so heavily embedded in the first movie that it’s more like the sequel influenced its predecessor than vice versa. As a continuation of a saga, this film is damn near perfect. If the ideas presented in Insidious and Chapter 2 do spawn another chapter, I sincerely hope it stays in the hands of the masters of modern horror James Wan and Leigh Whannell.
Insidious: Chapter 2: 4 out of 5
Wished it was scarier, but I also wished Wan took his material a bit seriously, because who knows how many actual jumps and bumps we would have gotten had he not acted like such a goof-ball with this story. Good review.
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