The 400-Word Review: Insidious Chapter 2
By Sean Collier
September 16, 2013
Horror has generated more unimaginative sequels than about any other genre. Even classics typically beget a decade’s worth of retreads that offer little but a similar killer dispatching interchangeable victims. That’s not to say that there are no good horror sequels, but for every Dawn of the Dead, there are a half-dozen Jason Takes Manhattans.
That’s why Insidious: Chapter 2 is so good; it not only defies genre convention, it reevaluates the role of a spookshow franchise. For 100 years, monsters have come back to terrorize further. Director James Wan instead uses this second installment to expand, enhance and elaborate on the original Insidious — and forward the story naturally.
Wan’s 2011 film ended with a cliffhanger. Josh and Dalton, a father-and-son team unwittingly proficient in out-of-body experiences (“astral projections,” as the film puts it,) have returned from the alternate plane where Dalton had been trapped for months. In the film’s closing moments, though, it became clear that at least one other entity had followed.
Insidious: Chapter 2 does pick up right about there, after an opening flashback fills us in on a bit of Josh’s previous troubles. (It should be noted that the flashback scenes contain the film’s only significant misstep — the voice of 69-year-old actress Lin Shayne is awkwardly dubbed onto the mouth of a much younger performer. It’s not convincing.) But there’s much more on tap than an extended story; Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell instead fill in gaps in the original Insidious, flesh out the film’s universe and take steps toward explaining just where Dalton went and how that place (“The Further”) works.
This not only creates a captivating, refreshing (and terrifying) film, but it does the impossible: Chapter 2 makes the original Insidious better. I honestly can’t think of another example of this; I walked out of the sequel liking the first movie more.
Wan’s greatest strength is atmosphere and suspense. Tension is ratcheted up instantly and remains high throughout; brief moments of relief allow the audience only to breathe, never to calm down. Wan has a great deal of respect for the tricks of old-school horror filmmaking — note the practical makeup and real sets — and uses those skills to great effect.
Put plainly, Chapter 2 is among the best horror sequels ever and the best genre flicks of the last 20 years. There’s more great work to come from James Wan.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark