BBFC Classification: 15
Director: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Angus Sampson, Steve Coulter
2010’s Insidious proved to be something of a surprise hit, bringing in over $50 million in the US alone, which isn’t bad considering the budget for the film was $1.5 million. However, the film did receive criticism for setting up a chilling atmosphere in the first two acts before losing its way for the ludicrous final act; criticism that was justified as the filmmakers seemed to opt for crowd-pleasing box-ticking rather than going with what they had set up and sticking with it, but a sequel was inevitable so did anybody learn any lessons from the previous instalment or is it more of the same?
In this film, the Lambert family – Josh (Patrick Wilson), his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and their three children – move into Josh’s mother Lorraine’s house following the events of the first film and the death of psychic investigator Elise (Lin Shaye). However, since those events things haven’t been quite right, especially with Josh, who seems to be acting a little weird, and Renai begins to hear and see things that have no explanation. While this is going on Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) calls upon Elise’s colleagues Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to try and contact Elise in the spirit world to find out what is happening, but once they start investigating they find that what is happening to the Lambert family began a long time ago and isn’t over yet.
Insidious: Chapter 2 has a lot of good things in its favour as main creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell have done what any good filmmaker making a sequel should do and have taken the things that worked in the first film and amped them up for the second, something which, in the wrong hands, could just be endlessly repeating the same beats and hoping that it still works. But Wan and Whannell are experienced enough know what works and exactly how to pitch and pace each scare, and so it doesn’t feel like a straight repeat of the first film despite being tonally very similar.
And that all-important tone is set up brilliantly at the very outset with some of the best opening titles seen since The House of the Devil, another film that harks back to a bygone era. It’s also comparable to that film in other ways too, as its lead actress Jocelin Donahue turns up here playing the young Lorraine in a flashback sequence and the dark, labyrinthine house and the way people move around it is very similar, but the way that the titles flash up on the screen with a mournful musical cue is very reminiscent of films like The Exorcist and The Omen. There are a couple of obvious nods to haunted house-type films like The Amityville Horror and The Shining that don’t directly lift anything but anyone familiar with those films will see the similarities. These comparisons all apply to the first film as well but here they don’t seem quite so forced, as if Wan and Whannell assume their audience will already know their horror history and make their own comparisons rather than have references pointed out.
Also in its favour is the cast, who all do a sterling job. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne have a nice dynamic and are very believable as a married couple, and while Leigh Whannell may not be the best actor in the world (although some of his facial expressions are hilarious) he and Angus Sampson make a fun comedy duo and throw in some light relief when needed. The Conjuring star Steve Coulter is also a likeable presence as medium Carl, who steps into the role that Lin Shaye played in the first film. In other good news, the Darth Maul lookalike demon doesn’t make a return in this film (or does he?).
So the film has a solid setup, some creepy visuals, plenty of jump scares and a cast who are all reading off the same page, as it were, but somewhere along the line it all starts to fall apart as if Wan and Whannell didn’t quite know how to end the main plot. It doesn’t end disastrously but there are one or two additional characters thrown in towards the end that serve to confuse things a little when it comes to who is doing what in which realm, but the final coda brings it back round and sets up a possible third film with a different direction so it isn’t an unsatisfying ending, just a seemingly rushed one. Also, the fact that there is something very wrong with Josh is made obvious at the beginning of the film – in fact, it was established at the end of the first one – but none of the other characters seem to take much notice of it and act surprised when it is revealed again later on in the film. It may not seem like much but when one of the main plot details is highlighted at the beginning and not addressed until much later on, it does hang over the story somewhat.
But otherwise Insidious: Chapter 2 is an effectively creepy horror film that keeps the shocks and scares coming right up until the slightly tenuous climax. It shows off James Wan’s increasing mastery of his craft and his ability to create suspense, which is something that the director is applying to other genres of film as this is apparently going to be his last horror film, for a while at least. Overall, it is a better film than its predecessor but if you haven’t seen the first one then don’t go straight into this one as they do need to be watched together, and despite being quite visually similar there is a more of a sense of fun at play here – from the script, the performances and the direction – that makes it a thrilling ride if you’re willing to overlook its flaws.
Special Features: Peripheral Vision: Behind the Scenes featurette, Ghostly Transformations featurette, Leigh Whannell’s Insidious Journal featurette, Haunted Hospital: On Location featurette, Work in Progress: On Set Q&A featurette, Insidious: Spectral Sightings webisodes.
UK Release Date: 6th January 2014