Apparently there are but two certainties in life and common knowledge dictates that they are death and taxes; but a third could quite easily be grafted onto that time-worn saying and that’s horror sequels.
In 2010, director and writer team James Wan and Leigh Whannell finally recaptured the promise they had ballsily laid down with 2004’s Saw and unleashed Insidious onto an unsuspecting public.
This low tech/high energy inversion of the classic white-family-in-a-haunted-house was a genuine breath of fresh air and managed to scare up a very healthy chunk of change at the box office so a follow up was as inevitable as the grave and sure enough, three years later, Insidious rose from the grave for another go round.
After the climatic chaos of the original film’s ending, long suffering father Josh is possessed by the spirit that was trying to claim him as a child after managing to travel to the afterlife to save his own. While the malevolent spirit murders perky medium Elise Rainier and then wanders around in it’s brand spanking new Patrick Wilson suit (not available in the shops), Josh languishes in shadowy world of The Further with only his trusty lantern and a clutch of oblivious wandering souls for company. As Josh wife Raini is agonisingly slow to catch on, Elise’s nerdy paranormal assistants Specs and Tucker scurry around to solve the mystery of her murder only to find that everything is connected back to the initial contact Josh had back when was was knee high to a phantom.
Just as common an occurrence as the horror sequel is the frustrating fact that the quality of the second attempt is usually noticeably inferior to the original movie and despite the occasional inspired idea, Insidious Chapter 2 is no different.
The first problem is that as a sequel that picks up moments after the original film’s credits do their lap of honor, the story lacks any sense of normality which is kind of needed in a film about a family’s day to day life getting curb stomped by a possession happy demon and even followers of the original might feel somewhat dropped in unceremoniously.
If there’s another fatal flaw it’s that things gets a little frustrating watching all the players bumble around the place looking for clues to answers that we, the audience already know and have done since the movie started and Wan doesn’t seem to have such a steady grip on matters as he did the first time round. Odd, almost lazy, choices are settled on to have his characters progress to the end of the story like the curious need for Josh to resort to physical violence to survive despite being on the decidedly metaphysical astral plane (something the late Wes Craven would also use to wrap up his movies – check out the brawl at the end of The Serpent And The Rainbow) and the jump from the genuinely freaky hoof-footed demon to a wedding dress wearing serial killer feels somewhat of a step down when it comes to the villain stakes.
The final issue the film has to muscle through is the awkward (and spoilery) problem that Wan and Whannell killed off their most interesting character in the legitimately chilling final scenes of the first movie and the absence of the wonderful Lin Shaye for the most of the running time is heavily felt but her ghostly return also feels trite, predictable and awkwardly convenient.
And yet despite this laundry lists of issues which leave the sequel as sure-footed as Bambi taking a stroll on a frozen lake, Insidious Chapter 2 still has enough of Wan and Whannell’s verve and chutzpah to still turn in some legitimately memorable moments.
Primarily the basic feel of the movie nicely recreates the hodgepodge feel of the original by hurling as many references and homages to similar films as it can against the wall to see what sticks and it’s all part of the fun trying to spot them. For example, the plot of a demonically possessed family member being manipulated in plain sight to murder his family firmly recalls the second Amityville movie with a slight callbacks to Poltergeist II and the orginal Carnival Of Souls is playing on a TV – it’s no surprise that the director and writer duo know their horror history but the knowing nods are bread and butter to a savvy audience.
Also, about halfway through, the film decides to go full Back To The Future and, in a fairly ingenious sequence, has it’s limbo locked lead explore time and space to reveal himself to be the actual culprit behind some of the scare scenes in the original. It’s audacious and ballsy and is far cleverer than anything else in the movie by far which makes you think that the scene alone is the main reason the sequel exists.
A solid sequel that is more obsessed with relentlessly expanding it’s timeline into something epic (from this point on Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne were jettisoned in favour of backstory enhancing prequels), than creating a stand alone adventure, Insidious Chapter 2 just about proves it’s worth by utilising it’s brain to give itself a ghost of a chance.