If you're getting a little sick of haunted house movies by now, you can blame a man called James Wan. He hit the movie world with the original Saw before moving on to flicks like Dead Silence and Death Sentence, but he had the second big hit of his career in 2010 with a lovable "haunted house" throwback movie called Insidious. Oh, he also directed this year's The Conjuring (before coming back with Insidious: Chapter 2). Clearly this is a man who loves his horror stories.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that the producers of Insidious wanted a sequel, and to their credit they went back to the team of Wan and (screenwriter Leigh) Whannell to deliver the goods. (Sequels are rooted in money, obviously, but lots of producers go cheap on Part 2 and replace the key filmmakers with newer -- and less expensive -- folks. Nice to make a note when that doesn't happen.) The resulting movie, adorably titled Insidious: Chapter 2, has some pacing problems and a handful of narrative glitches that Chapter 1 does not, but there's still a good deal to enjoy here if you crave "yet another haunted house movie, by now pretty familiar but still rather well-crafted."
Mr. Whannell knows a thing or two about sequels, clearly. Insidious 2 is not a simple remake of Part 1 with a new house and slightly different actors. If Insidious Chapter 1 was little more than a classy and respectful homage to Poltergeist, then Insidious Chapter 2 borrows a few pages from "loony dad" thrillers like The Shining and The Stepfather. In order to flip the scary stuff around from the kids to the parents, Wan and Whannell propose a fairly nifty back-story for Josh (Patrick Wilson), who was the heroic dad in the last movie -- and is the unexpected threat this time around.
Insidious Chapter 2 also devotes a good deal of cinematic shoe leather to a fun but slightly overlong subplot in which a medium (Steve Coulter), a grandma (Barbara Hershey), and two paranormal experts (Whannell and Angus Sampson) creep around abandoned hospitals in an effort to get to the bottom of the most recent hauntings that surround the long-suffering Lambert family. At its drier moments, Insidious Chapter 2 suffers from a little bit of narrative wheel-spinning, but the story starts to click together quite well about halfway through -- and even when this movie is doling out simple "jump scares" and semi-predictable sequences of "hallway wandering," there's an old-fashioned respect for the pleasures of simple creepiness.
Not every sequel has to be great to be worthwhile, and while there's certainly an ample amount of care and obvious craftsmanship behind Insidious Chapter 2, one can't help but think it's a "for established fans only" kind of film. Fortunately, most horror fans seem to really like Insidious, which bodes well for Part 2. Wan's unflinching affection for creative camera angles and eerie visual cues remains as obvious as ever, even during the Insidious Chapter 2's most obvious moments, and that speaks to a filmmaker who makes horror films because he enjoys it, and not just because it pays well.
Fans should dig it. Newcomers will be confused. All potential viewers should probably give Insidious a second visit before trying out the sequel -- but given how many haunted house homages we've seen lately, the producers might want to hold off on Chapter 3 for a few years.There are plenty of horror sub-genres out there. Let's leave the haunted houses alone for a little while.
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