More or less picking up where Insidious left off, James Wan brings bigger, better thrills and chills to Insidious: Chapter 2, his latest authoritative stamp on the horror landscape. That he makes viewers wait a good five minutes for the first scare, then spends the rest of the film not only compensating for the calmness but justifying is a minor miracle. That this wait involves a 1986 flashback sequence in which a younger version of paranormal communicator Elise Rainier (Lindsay Seim) has the voice of her future self (Lin Shaye) awkwardly yet professionally piped in and still succeeds is even more of an accomplishment…and things only get better from there.
Returning to the present, Wan begins his assault on the senses with one eerie scene after another. The Insidious finale, which didn’t exactly demand a sequel, pretty clearly suggested that the body of Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) returned from the spirit world of The Further inhabited by a malevolent old woman in a bridal gown. Still, the night’s prior events weren’t exactly ones the promote accurate retention, and with Josh acting mostly like himself, his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) attempts to move their family forward. Staying with Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) while the police work through their crime scene of a home, there’s just enough not quite right with Josh to keep Renai (and the audience) on edge, and when odd things start happening, the snowball of terror fully begins.
As Wan displayed in The Conjuring, his timing improves with each film, a trend that continues with Insidious: Chapter 2. Again and again, the director shows a ghoul off to the side, unbeknownst to the human about to walk into that room, leaving breaths held until an old school jump cued perfectly to a sharp sound brings the scare to fruition. On top of that core strength, he goes whole hog on textbook spooky locations, having his characters sojourn to an old hospital and an abandoned house to discover the root of the Lamberts’ haunting. In these wonderfully rendered settings, the appealing team of Elise’s former colleague Carl (Steve Coulter, filling the void left by Shaye) and comic relief ghostbusters Specs (screenwriter Leigh Whannell, ably pulling double duty) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) augment the film’s human element, elevating the stakes even higher.
Most impressive still may be Wan and Whannell’s sense of story within a multi-film franchise. Through a nifty revisiting of events from Insidious, the director sheds on past mysteries in a manner reminiscent of Back to the Future Part II. Despite some related chronology issues that arise, the unexpected revelations of key characters’ true identities and an overall visual upgrade (it certainly doesn’t look like it only cost $5 million) exhibit a care rarely found in sequels. For these enhancements, Insidious: Chapter 2 stands a half notch above its predecessor, but not quite to the refined heights of The Conjuring. All three, however, rank far above their contemporaries, and with Wan claiming to be through with horror, his pending absence leaves the genre in a truly scary predicament.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of terror and violence, and thematic elements.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.