Director: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell shocked horror fans with 2011's Insidious, one of the best films of the genre in the last ten years. It was inevitable that a sequel would be green lit. Whannell and Wan got the whole cast back together for a deeper look into the Lambert family. Josh (Wilson) and Renai (Byrne) are relieved to have their son Dalton (Simpkins) back to normal after a mysterious spirit haunted him. The events of that evening have left their medium Elise (Laye) dead with Josh being investigated for her death.
The Lamberts have moved back into Josh’s childhood home with his mother Lorraine (Hershey) even though they should know that it was not their previous house that haunted them. The spirits that possess both Josh and Dalton will never leave them no matter what home they are in. Renai starts hearing things go bump in the night, the piano start playing, and sees the woman in the white dress in her house. Josh is acting out of character and is adamant that she ignore these warning signs, but she knows all too well that their nightmare is not over. Josh’s body has been taken over by a spirit while he is still stuck in the other realm known as “The Further”. Elise’s colleagues and partners-in-crime Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson) are called in with the help of retired psychic Carl (Coulter) to bring Josh back and put an end to this nightmare.
There are two routes you can take when making a horror sequel. You can either continue on with the same story and same characters by fleshing it out with a back story, unveiling some hidden truths, and finding new ways to scare the audience. This must all be done while staying within that world you've already created. The other approach is to take the same theme/serial killer/demon and have him/it attack a new crop of victims. Approach number one is definitely the harder path to take, but ultimately, the path I typically enjoy with my horror sequels. It was smart for Wan and Whannell to continue on with the Lambert's story. Like I previously mentioned, Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up directly where the first film left off and delves a bit deeper into the mythology and ideas behind astral projection. These characters get so deep into these alternate worlds and realms that it can feel a bit muddled at times. "The Further" does not seem to have any time continuum either which makes things a bit more challenging if you are trying to figure out the chronology of it all. Maybe I was trying to think too hard during a horror movie. You really need to have a good understanding of the first film and know it fairly well in order to sink into this one. I do not think you could watch this one without seeing the first one and not feel completely lost. Yes, many of the characters do plenty of explaining and recaps for us but that does not do any justice to what is unleashed in the first chapter.
If you allow yourself to go there and dive into these alternate realms and go into "The Further", you will find this movie scary. You will inevitably jump and make some sort of vocalization each time you are startled. I had a harder time going all the way there, so I did not find this as scary as the first film or even The Conjuring, which also was directed by James Wan and starred Patrick Wilson. I find the story of The Conjuring a bit more realistic and believable which in turn makes it scarier to me. That is the beauty of the horror genre. It is all so subjective to each viewer.
Another element that sets this series apart from others is the talented cast. Wilson, Bryne, Hershey, and Shaye give very realistic and grounded performances that make the story all the more credible. Even if you find astral projection and demons to be a bit hokey, you can still feel something for these characters. They are not the dumb teenagers that get trapped in a cabin or are seen running through the woods hiding from the killer while screaming their faces off.
James Wan is not new to the horror genre as he arrived on the scene with 2004's Saw. Each one of his films is a bit different and caters to a different type of lover of the horror genre. I love horror, but The Conjuring is more my style than the torture porn of Saw. It is obvious when watching his films that Wan has an appreciation for the genre and knows it well. Some may roll their eyes at the very obvious references to The Shining in this film, but I see them more as a nod and homage to a classic than Wan ripping off Kubrick. He is a gifted filmmaker that even though Insidious: Chapter 2 may not be as on par with the first, it is still entertaining, frightening, and leagues better than many other supposed "scary" movies that are released each year.
RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)