Meant to pick up where 2010’s Insidious left off, writer-director James Wan and co-writer Leigh Whannell place us in the company of the unfortunate Lamberts family again, only this time at grandma Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) residence. The first thing that springs to mind is just why Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) hasn’t run for the hills with kiddies in tow long before now, considering hubby Josh (Patrick Wilson) was outed as hosting the presence of a hideous old hag with bad joker make-up at the end of the first film.
An emphasis on strong family bonds is needed to fight this demonic scourge, things remain far from being rosy. Wan and Whannell do their best to answer questions from the first film in Chapter 2, while creating more confusion and convolution in the process at times. One thing Wan is top of his game at, is keeping the tension tightly wound and still providing lots of jumpy moments in what is effectively horror panto.
The Lamberts – husband, wife and three young kids – are trying to rebuild their lives while staying with mother/grandma (in an equally scary house). However, they soon find they’re still dangerously connected to the spirit world as strange sounds are heard, inanimate objects move by themselves, and ghosts make themselves at home on the sofa. This time they face the terrifying ordeal minus the services of murdered medium Elise (Lin Shaye) – killed at the hands of a possessed Josh in the first film. Desperate to find out why they’re still being targeted, the Lamberts call in ghost hunters Specs (Whannell himself) and Tucker (Angus Simpson) again, plus new spooks hunter Carl (Steve Coulter) – who can make a connection with Elise and solve the mystery once and for all.
If astral projection wasn’t enough, there’s now time travel to contend with in the second episode, and you have to hand it to Wan and Whannell, they like to make the average haunting affair more meatier by adding other supernatural topics to the mix. The time travel sounds a little over ambitious but it’s used to good effect to explain the current and previous film’s linked events. The trouble is, things turn into a fairground attraction with comically painted ghouls who’ll only freak out those with a mannequin phobia.
The biggest thrill this time is watching a key family member’s sinister transformation, complete with nods to The Shining and Psycho. Fans of Wan’s recent hit horror The Conjuring will note elements of ‘the biggest threat coming from within’ in this too, though not half as effective. In all fairness, Wan’s Insidious saga takes itself a little less seriously – cue Specs and Tucker, though their banter never quite diffuses the tension, as there’s so much else going on, and we already know what’s likely to happen. It’s fairly obvious whom to watch too, so that element of surprise is removed. All that’s at stake is the timing of when things get ugly.
Wan can rely on the same cast as last time to take us along for the scary ride, all doing a serviceable job with the material at hand. Hershey as Lorraine turns sleuth this time, while Wilson gets to be insidious – something quite refreshing, character-wise, for the actor, and a flavour of which we got to see at the end of the 2010 film. It’s especially thrilling given Wilson always plays a ‘nice guy’ too. Byrne is the tour de force of the piece, as the tormented and emotionally battered Renai, who convinces us of her plight to protect against all odds.
The question isn’t, is Insidious: Chapter 2 as scary as the first – it just further explains events while throwing up other queries. Instead the real question here is, is there enough to drag out the ideas into a third film, however much the ending in Chapter 2 tries to whet the appetite for such? Still, who knows what subject matter Wan and Whannell will try to weave in next, when we’ve already had classic haunted house in the first and domestic thriller in the second. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the writer-director will do the best job he can, putting to use a good array of horror tools and production experience. That’s always a treat to watch.