Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell are at it again. Their movie Insidious: Chapter 2 is the kind of movie audiences who love the horror genre impatiently wait years to see. You can't help but feel bad for the Lambert family since no one should suffer such intense agony of being haunted and no matter where you hide you can't escape. Produced once again by Oren Peli (Insidious, Paranormal Activity) and with box office stats showing over $20 million in ticket sales so far this opening weekend, the general consensus is that James Wan is a master when it comes to making a very scary film that will terrify you and thrill you in the best ways possible.
It’s no secret that film goers who watch horror movies love to be scared out of their wits. We want to feel terrified and be disturbed and haunted by all the things that go bump in the night – or during the daytime – and give us nightmares and make us jumpy and afraid to be alone in the house. We want a good story, characters we root for and at the core we want a vicarious experience for two hours that we can imagine happening to us while we sit in the relative safety of a dark theater.
A great horror movie connects to the universal emotion of fear, fear for our life, fear for our soul and fear for the lives and souls of the ones we love. This is what team Wan and Whannell give us in epic proportions, reinforcing the fact that they are skillful at using everyday things that are familiar to us and making them extremely frightening when used the right way. So skillful are they at this that they wanted to mix it up a bit by adding a dash of a mystery whodunnit subplot and a pinch of an intriguing time travel paradox into the fray for a really satisfying twist. Masterful, suspenseful, gripping, terrifying and funny as hell in all the right places gives Insidious: Chapter 2 all the right stuff to smash the box office this weekend.
According to the horror professionals, there are 4 core elements to having a successful horror movie: isolation, desolation, lost cause, and finally, redemption. And because this is a trend I’m embracing more and more in my horror movie win requirements — as are audiences around the world —I’m adding the requirement of humor. There has to be a comic relief factor because as much as we want to be scared, audiences need to release the tension with a good laugh, and James Wan and Leigh Whannell certainly know how to make us laugh inappropriately at all the right moments.
There is nothing like seeing a movie like this with a packed theater because for almost two hours we screamed, we cringed, we laughed and some of us (ahem, random guy in a Vancouver, BC theater) were so afraid there was literally puking involved.
We return to the supernatural plight of the Lambert family. The film picks up where the first film left off and begins with first a flashback that reveals more of Josh’s childhood. We know it’s not the first time he’s had an encounter of the ghostly kind with the other side. We know Elise had helped him before and flash forward, we feel saddened when we are reminded that she is dead. With a traumatized Renai being interrogated by a detective into the suspicious events that we know he thinks are whacky, we feel her helpless confusion, loneliness and “I’m not crazy because I’m telling you I see dead people” vibe she’s putting out there. Her explanation would seem outrageous even to believers, so it must seem like looney tunes to Mr. Skeptic Detective.
And even though the family is all together at Josh’s mom’s house, we feel the family’s isolation. They are truly going through this terrible ordeal alone. The uncertainty and the doubt both Lorraine and Renai feel is palpable and this time there is no Elise to help them. Or is there? And just like they are questioning we are asking too, who came back with Josh? Is it even Josh? The fact that whoever or whatever it is lurks right in their midst, an enemy just masquerading in plain sight is horrific. Can you imagine? Who wouldn’t feel crazy? How would you handle a sitch like these? I do not think there are any self help books for this kind of life dilemma.
So now things ramp up even more. Wan gives us no time to pump the brakes or regroup. He grips your arm and pulls you right back into the vortex of the Lambert saga. We feel a soul crushing lack of security. Ghosts can hurt you and they outnumber you and they are not good or friendly Casper the ghost types either. Uh huh. No way. They are the body snatching kind. The kind that will take your baby and your life and do all sorts of crazy things just because they are in the flesh now and they can.
You will feel afraid for our protagonists to go to sleep, namely Dalton, because you just know something lies in wait, lurking in the dark of that big old rambling house just waiting for the first opportunity for the children in that house to go travelling while they are sleeping. Seeing ghosts, having Renai and Lorraine seeing them and running after them or away from them is so scary it’s like you are in the house with them.
And let’s not even talk about Josh. Patrick Wilson pretending to be a ghost that is pretending to be Josh in the effort to dupe Renai, his mother and the kids is so awesome to watch you really get the fact of what a fine actor Wilson is. He was so great in both the subtle moments and the physical fast paced moments that it was just delicious to behold. I believed his performance. And Rose Byrne as Renai can easily convince audiences that her terror is real. Sometimes I wondered if she really was afraid because I forgot she was acting.
Specs and Tucker return as the comic relief for Insidious: Chapter 2, and though we love their ghostbusting buffoonery they do not make you feel safe. They are just as likely to get attacked by invading spirits that haunt the living as to attack the ghosts. Their hearts are in the right place though, and they do have tons of paranormal knowledge and moxie, and though we’re happy to have them along for the ride we still feel just how far away we are from safety and salvation. It’s begins to feel like there is no hope for the Lamberts or their friends no matter who is there trying to help them. It’s wretched and horrible and sucks you deeper into the world created by the filmmakers, which is a good thing because The Further isn’t done with us yet.
As our intrepid ghost hunters are joined by Lorraine and Carl who is another medium who knew Elise when they were younger. Carl was the person who originally called Elise into the case when Josh was a kid, but even with his dice loving presence we are feeling like all hope is lost no matter what they do. Renai is dealing with some terrifying events at the house, creepy possessed Josh is literally falling apart and on the loose, we’re wondering who is going to protect them and who is in Josh and who is he talking to?
We discover ghosts really can hurt you and realizing just how vulnerable Renai and her children are is truly, truly debilitating. Even logically understanding that Josh didn’t choose to leave his family alone to fend for himself intentionally, the perilous life and death implications of his absence and thus leaving his family in the lurch surrounded by enemies is one of the most awful feelings an audience can experience. What are these ghosts up to? And we know it won’t be good for the Lamberts no matter what it is. The real Josh is wandering around lost in The Further and we know it’s only a matter of time before everything falls apart and gets to the point of no return.
So we have things moving and making noise of their own accord it seems, ghosts are being seen and not just heard and felt, and then we come to the crux of it. At the heart of all this supernatural mayhem there is a decades old mystery no one ever expected which is so cool it's like a bonus scene at the end of an X-Men movie. And then Wan takes us back even further into the realm of the uncanny and terrifying, down the rabbit hole into more strangeness and mystery and the events that have the power to destroy lives. And then there’s that chilling, mysterious and shrouded evil specter of an old woman in a black Victorian dress and bridal veil who has stalked Josh since childhood. Can it get any worse? Or should we even ask that question?
For years she eerily appeared behind him in all his childhood photos. She is the specter that has haunted our nightmares and Josh and Lorraine and now Renai and the kids for what seems like forever. And she must be drinking Charlie Sheen’s tiger blood because she and her spirit buddies seem to be winning.
Yet an audience must never forget the power of love. And if there is one thing here that this movie has lots of it is love. This is a family that truly loves each other. I think that is why we root so hard for them to beat this evil nightmare that has haunted them and us for longer than any family deserves.
And let’s not forget about all those dots that need connecting. The first Insidious left us with a ton of unanswered questions, worries and doubts. The second film does an admirable job of revealing answers and truths to us like a finely wrapped Christmas present, but at the same time it opens up a whole new realm of discovery for us to come back to if we dare.
In Insidious: Chapter 2 Wan explores The Further realm even more, and it is here that we discover an origin story and ghastly truths and it really does look like the Lamberts are going to lose this round to the ghosts. And we want so badly for them to win and beat these bad spirits.
The second installment in the franchise gives us everything we want in a horror flick. A good story, universal themes, emotional connection with the struggle of our characters, great characters we care about a lot, familiar faces and it takes pity on us by giving us something to laugh at before scaring the wits out of us all over again.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is a movie that will definitely give you your money’s worth. It has the heart to connect with an audience. It possesses your imagination in a way that few horror movies can and that is why Cinelinx rates the latest James Wan directed horror thriller with an 8 out of 10.
Insidious: Chapter 2 is now playing and scaring people sick in a theater near you so don't go alone.