Despite being able to appreciate James Wan’s talent and passion for the horror franchise, I’ve only really ever felt luke warm about any of the films he’s made. Whether it be Saw or, most recently, The Conjuring, there are a lot of things I can easily enjoy about his films but there are detrimental elements that keep me from completely enjoying myself. Any time someone asks me about what I thought of his film, there’s always a bunch of caveats. The first time I saw Insidious, I was really, REALLY enjoying the first half hour or so when the film played as a traditional haunted house movie. That’s when the demon in the nu-metal face paint showed up, Leigh Whannel forced his way into another movie and the whole tone switched from “haunted house” to “goofy Poltergeist rip-off”. For as much as I enjoyed the beginning of the film, the direction it went in both plot and atmosphere canceled out those positive feelings. Going in to Insidious: Chapter 2, I had my reservations as I wasn’t too into the first one and the trailer didn’t really impress me, but against all odds, I ended up enjoying this film much more than the first.
The previous film ended with Josh (Patrick Wilson) rescuing his son from “The Further”, only to have his own body taken over by an evil entity. Dammit, Josh, can you do anything right?! Josh’s wife (Rose Byrne) and family have no idea that he’s become possessed by this evil spirit and are wondering where there are still supernatural beings tormenting them now that their son has returned. When the paranormal investigators from the first film stumble across some footage of Josh as a child, they have a few concerns that they approach Josh’s mom (Barbara Hershey) which only starts to raise more questions. While Josh’s family are trying to deal with him and what could be going on, the investigators and Josh’s mom contact the person who had originally made Josh forget these traumatic events, played by Steve Coulter. The film divides its time between the exploration of what could be haunting Josh as we also see Josh’s family being haunted, and the film climaxes with these two storylines combining in a battle to save Josh’s soul.
My big issue with the first film is that in the first half, nothing funny happens. When genuinely comedic moments happen in the second half, it’s incredibly jarring. The advantage that Insidious: Chapter 2 has is that the whole world has been established in Insidious and now the characters, as well as James Wan, just get to play around with this world. You can enter this movie knowing that when you see the two paranormal investigators, played by Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell, you know you’re going to be getting some comedic relief, whereas scenes involving Josh and his family should be taken a little more dramatically. The tone is balanced much more successfully in the narrative structure of the film, in that we switch back and forth from comedy to tension much more distinctly. Yes, I actually did allow myself to think things in this movie were intentionally funny.
Naming the film “Chapter 2” really only opens the door for there to be multiple chapters that deal with this concept of “The Further” and I think that Wan could probably pull that off. Even though we shouldn’t grow too attached of Patrick Wilson or Rose Byrne, the connecting characters of the investigators is definitely something that could be explored for quite some time. Even though I strongly disliked the segment in the first film in which Lin Shaye’s character was talking to a ghost through a weird S & M gas mask, having a different investigator in this film allowed for a different type of communication with the spirits, this time requiring dice. Sure, dice are less sexy, but I could see subsequent chapters involving lots of different investigators using all sorts of different communication methods with the only connection being the bumbling investigators seeking these people out. I mean, I can also hope that there’s going to be an entire chapter to Jocelin Donahue, who plays a young Barbara Hershey in a few flashback sequences, but I’m willing to wait a few chapters for that to happen.
Even though I’m stressing the comedy in this film, there are also plenty of scares, possibly even more than the first film. Even though the whole atmosphere of the film is different because of the changes in tension/comedy, there are lots of isolated sequences of creepy things. The most successful, in my opinion, being a sequence involving some tin cans and a string. Wan definitely has his own style, something we’ve seen in both Insidious and The Conjuring, and it showed me the it works more effectively when done in short bursts as opposed to trying to stretch the tension out through an entire film. If you liked the first movie, this is definitely worth checking out, and even if you weren’t a fan of it, I think the two movies play together much better than they play apart. Oh, and did I mention you get to see Rose Byrne and Jocelin Donahue on the big screen? Well worth price of admission. That Patrick Wilson’s nothing to shake a stick at, either.