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Directed by James Wan
Written by James Wan & Leigh Whannell
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Andrew Astor
Find out more about this film here

Though the first INSIDIOUS was not the perfect film, I will say that the first half is damn near perfect in tone, patience, and rock solid scares. Having just sat through a double feature of both INSIDIOUS and INSIDIOUS 2, I still think the first holds up in terms of chills and the second, while not as powerful in the story department, continues to do what the original did well and fixes a few of its missteps along the way.

INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 begins almost seconds after the original ends (a lost art in today’s horror sequels, but seems to be on the resurgence with the HATCHET and CHUCKY series paying close attention to continuity), after a brief flashback featuring a younger Josh (played by Patrick Wilson as an adult) meeting a younger version of Lin Shaye’s ghost whisperer Elise for the first time, having been plagued with night terrors. Just as the doll sequence in THE CONJURING sets the tone of the film perfectly, this one offers a nice sampling of the terrors to come. After we are smacked in the face with music and the big INSIDIOUS letters across the screen, we’re ready to pick up where we left off with the original.

As the last moments of INSIDIOUS suggest, this film focuses on the Lambert family once again who continue to experience paranormal phenomena around their house. Though the slightly off Josh is adamant that the terror has subsided and that both his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) need to ignore the weird stuff in order to take power away from them, the weirdness persists. But what we are aware of, is that Josh returned from the Further (a sort of in-between ghost world astral projectionists like Josh and his son go to in their sleep) somewhat different than when he went in.

What director/writer Wan and writer Leigh Whannel (who returns as Specs, one half of the comedy relief ghost hunting team from the original) do right is make this film feel like a real continuation from the original. While it takes half of the film for the family to accept the ghostly business in the first film, Renai and Lorraine immediately sense that the horror isn’t over. So there’s less of those dull moments where you know there’s something wrong even though the characters don’t. Renai even suspects something is off with Josh early on, which makes for some nice tension between the two talented actors.

Wan and Whannel’s true talent seem to be tapping into those childhood nightmare scenarios and this film is littered with them. All of those nights alone in your room that most of us have forgotten or replaced in our minds with info like online passwords and such never left these guys consciousness. It’s this “in tunement” with childhood fear that is ever-present as the beating heart of effective scares in this whole INSIDIOUS series. The scenes where a child sits up at night and looks into that dark corner or closet or the fear of walking through a quiet house past open doors and dark rooms are effectively paced and well executed here. In the INSIDIOUS movies, you have to pay close attention because the fear could be in any corner of the screen, making this one of those films that is definitely more fun to watch on the big screen. Though it’s a scene repeated over and over in this film, watching one of the characters venture through a creepy house tightened my spine every time.

While there are plenty of scenes that are sure to cause a start, I didn’t get that guttural sense of terror in the sequel as I did in the original with the fire-faced demon (who is not present in this film). There are some nice scares; one involving a room full of human forms covered in dirty sheets, and a definite level of subversive creep that makes the story a little more perverse as it involves abuse which turns out to be so horrible that it lives beyond death. But in adding that level of oddity, it takes away from those innocent childhood fears and dirties it in some way, making INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 less effective in tapping into those universal scares of childhood than the original.

Midway through, things get extremely expositiony as someone is constantly explaining, reexplaining, and then making sure we get it by explaining it one more time. There are some nicely paced paradoxes that come into play that tie both the first and second films together even tighter which I loved, but they shoot themselves in the foot by literally having characters saying “Oh, so that’s what that meant.” almost directly to the audience.

I also couldn’t help but get a bit overwhelmed by the way all of the houses the family and paranormal team went to looked like it was filmed in the same locale, just decorated differently. Every one of the homes has a long hallway beside a staircase to the right of the screen, with a side room at the bottom of the stairs. It even felt like the same house they used in THE CONJURING. Maybe this was coincidence, but it really felt similar and while the narrative does a decent job of differentiating the location of the story, I couldn’t help but notice either this was the same place done and redone to save cash or just locales too similar. Either way, I think the use of so many locations to tell this story was a bit extraneous and a tighter script might have dropped the importance of one of them, especially when alternative versions of the same locale are used for the scenes happening in conjunction with the real world and the Further.

Clunky midsection aside, INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 fixes the weak ending of the first one and it doesn’t feel like they ran out of money this time around, as the filmmakers admitted they did in the first. While the final moments with the Lamberts do feel like they wrap things up rather quickly, the end moments do leave you with that feeling that something is standing directly behind your shoulder and breathing heavy breaths through talon-like teeth.

I’m recommending INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 for trying to make a true sequel which is difficult to do these days with many producers still thinking making someone watch another film beforehand is too much to ask an audience. As long as the continuity continues to be this tight, I’m all for supporting this film series which has proven to be a cinematic bendy straw filled with childhood night terrors and haunted house shriekery.