I held high hopes for James Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2. After all, his Insidious (2010) is in a select group of 21st century horror films that I’ve watched more than twice — a group consisting of The Ring (2002), Seed of Chucky (2004) and Silent Hill (2006). Even with the pitfalls inherent in any sequel — let’s face it, The Ring 2 (2005) was rubbish and Silent Hill: Revelation (2012) wasn’t much better — I was hopeful, especially because the same director and writer were in place on this sequel. That’s generally a good sign. I took it as a good enough sign that I went to the 10 p.m. show on Thursday at The Carolina to join a bunch of teenagers (and what appeared to be a hapless grandfather with child in tow) to see it at the earliest possible moment. And my hopes were not in vain. In fact, I believe Insidious: Chapter 2 might be the better film, though, frankly, it’s hard to separate the two pictures.
I honestly have never seen a sequel that’s as completely organic as this one. I was especially struck by a scene that incorporated, expounded on and explained one of the random scares from Insidious. Naturally, I wanted to see how well this really fit, so I came home and popped the DVD in to check. It was only then that I realized that the first shot in Insidious by all rights belongs to Chapter 2 — or at least to the backstory from 1986 that opens it. By itself, it seems like little more than a creepy mood-setter. Taken in connection with Chapter 2, it becomes much more to the point. Whether this was intentionally done to lead to this sequel, I have no idea, but it helps to make the two movies virtually seamless.
The bulk of this film concerns whether what really came back from “The Further” in Insidious was indeed Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson). This isn’t much of a mystery, since we already knew he wasn’t himself by the end of the first film. However, we didn’t know exactly what he was, or whether he was possessed. The second film unravels this and the story of Josh’s childhood possession. That story strikes me as stronger than the one about the red-faced demon in the first film. (And, despite the trailer’s use of the demon’s “theme” — the Tiny Tim recording of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” — he doesn’t show up here, except possibly in the tag scene meant to lead into the inevitable Chapter 3.)
All in all, Chapter 2 is a solid spook show — much like the first, but with the intensity ramped up. Since our spirit medium, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), is dead in this film (which doesn’t mean we won’t see her), her old associate, Carl (Steve Coulter), is brought in to work with the semi-comic relief ghost hunters Specs (writer Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). He’s a reasonable substitute and has the film’s most memorable line — “Let’s just say this is a house where very little good happened.” There are a couple of moments where the film starts to slip out of control, but these are quickly reined in. And the performance of Danielle Bisutti as the younger version of the “Bride in Black” is a most elegant personification of evil.
Horror is quite possibly even more subjective than comedy. What scares me — or at least creeps me out — is probably drawn from deep recesses in my psyche that I have only the vaguest understanding of. And there’s no guarantee that it will scare you. As witness, I have a friend whose opinion I respect and who most certainly knows the horror genre, but who was left almost completely cold by the film. It’s clear that James Wan has tapped into something — in both these films and Dead Silence (2007) — that genuinely disturbs and unsettles me (not in a bad way, mind you). Whether this will hit a nerve with you, I can’t say, but as modern horror goes, this one is up there with the best. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of terror, violence and thematic elements.
Playing at Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher