Listen, I don’t hide the fact that I’m a James Wan fanatic. I’m very upfront about it. Aside from Dead Silence (which I refuse to speak about to this day), Wan’s biggest “misfire” has been Death Sentence, and I still freakin’ loved it, so just understand that before you read my review of Insidious: Chapter 2. It’s not like I have a shrine in my closet filled with pictures, candles, and a locket of his hair, but in the way people worship Quentin Tarantino, my horror director crush is turning out to be James Wan.
With that said, Insidious fans should start thanking Mr. Wan already, because Insidious: Chapter 2 is a rare breed of sequel that surpasses the original in almost every sense. I loved Insidious, don’t get me wrong, but collaborator Leigh Whannell and James Wan took what was originally a admirably creepy ghost story, and turned it into a pulse-pounding, scare-a-minute thrill ride. The backstory and build-up have already been taken care of, giving Insidious: Chapter 2 a chance to jump right into the action. It’s bigger, spookier, meaner, and ten times more horrifying than its predecessor, making me seriously regret not forcing someone to come with me for, um, moral support?
We all know how Insidious ended though, right? Josh (Patrick Wilson) leaves his body and enters “The Further” in search of his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), only to have a parasitic ghoul take control of his human vessel? Poor Elise (Lin Shaye) is the only person who discovers the secret though, and she suffers a horrible fate because of it. This is where Insidious leaves us, but this is also where Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up, as Renai (Rose Byrne) is found being interrogated by a cop as Josh is the only real suspect in Elyse’s murder. Now living with Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbra Hershey), the Lamberts attempt to start over anew after Dalton’s traumatic experience, but unfortunately moving houses won’t stop the problem. It becomes clear that the hauntings followed them to Lorraine’s, and Elyse’s old friend Carl (Steve Coulter) is called to fill her investigative shoes. Getting everyone back together, including Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell), the Lamberts attempt to end their torment once and for all.
Where Insidious was a much more clear-cut, slow-burn thriller, Insidious: Chapter 2 is all about in-your-face horror. The previous apparitions weren’t as threatening until the very end of Insidious, but here there’s an unsettling air of danger the entire time, as it’s made obvious to us that the lives of each Lambert are consistently at risk. Each encounter and adrenaline jolt will leave you breathless and shaking, as opposed to the thrills and chills from the original film. Insidious did a magnificent job invading your mindspace and completely bugging it out, ruining Tiny Tim forever, but Insidious: Chapter 2 aims for a heightened level of terror, achieved by non-stop paranormal assaults that always keep us uncomfortably off-guard. Basically, James Wan keeps saying “Oh, you’re just getting comfortable again? FUCK YOU! GHOST BITCH SLAP TIME HAHAHAHA” and then laughs as you shriek. Wan, you malicious, genius, bastard you.
What impresses even more is our story though, revisiting so many phenomenal moments from Insidious, but explaining exactly why they happened. Any and all questions you may have regarding the Lambert family’s first adventure will be answered and explained in ways that show satisfyingly creative connectivity. Insidious: Chapter 2 was exactly that – a continuation of Whannell’s original material, expanding upon ideas instead of repeating them. Insidious: Chapter 2 gets more psychotic and isn’t just about a straight haunting anymore, bringing in more violent and malicious evil forces. Mixed with momentary splices of first-person camera footage from our ghost hunter’s point of view, you’ve got yourself refreshingly new material with the same horrifying results.
Along with those new elements, Whannell and Wan completely blow our minds with how much more intriguing they’ve made “The Further.” Not only is it this purgatory, but now there are elements of time travel? Wan and Whannell weren’t satisfied with just playing out already established ideas, giving Insidious: Chapter 2 plenty of shocking surprises that prevent viewers from sitting through a nameless sequel type of experience.
Back again is the same cast, who have only upped their game this time around. Out of all the characters, it was funny to see the audience’s reaction to rediscovering Lin Shaye’s character Elise, as the crowd around me greeted her as a hero. She was a huge part of Insidious‘ success, don’t get me wrong, but audiences accepted her back like the biggest star in Hollywood – it was a cool moment for horror fans.
Patrick Wilson really displays a fantastic range throughout Insidious: Chapter 2, one that channels a drastic variety of emotions from tranquility to stark raving mad. I seriously don’t want to ruin anything for you guys, but Wilson absolutely kills it as Josh, and is given so much more freedom to stretch his horror acting skills in ways Insidious couldn’t provide. Patrick brings a strong intensity to his mysterious character, not only adding credibility to Wan’s film, but Josh also provides a character for everyone in the room to feed off of, heightening performances and setting a high bar of quality for the other actors to meet.
Not to be ignored is Insidious: Chapter 2‘s attempt to blend a little more humor with its horror, which works most of the time – but feels a little out of place as well. As stated, our favorite paranormal nerds Specs and Tucker are back for some more investigating, but this time it feels like Whannel tried a little too hard to embrace their comedic nature. Don’t get me wrong, the two are an absolute riot, but brief moments where Specs holds a joke too long or does something forcibly awkward just don’t fit in Wan’s hardcore horror atmosphere. It’s not a dealbreaker, but these failed comedic interjections represent the only complaint I really had – not too shabby.
Insidious: Chapter 2 defies every preconceived notion about sequels, standing alone as a hauntingly chilling ghost story because the Lambert’s experiences from Insidious were not replicated – they were continued. If you loved Insidious, then get ready to be jumping out of your seat once again. Wan and Whannell don’t cheat their fans, they reward them with more of the same genre craftsmanship that made Insidious easily one of the best paranormal stories in years – but they do it differently, generate new material, and wander even deeper into “The Further.”
I’d say James Wan is having a pretty damn good year – can’t say the same for myself though. Here come a few more sleepless nights hidden under my covers, as Insidious: Chapter 2 will invade your nightmares and chill you to the bone. Wan is the master of modern-day atmospheric horror though, so did you expect anything else?