The opening titles for “Insidious: Chapter 2” just read “Insidious.” They’re in flickering red letters accompanied by a cacophony of stringed instruments, just like before. The “Chapter 2” addendum only comes later. That’s because this isn’t so much of a sequel as it is the completion of the first film, each complimenting the other.
We begin our story on the same night as the first film ended on when it was released three years ago. Little Dalton Lambert (Ty Simpkins) has been safely returned from “the further” — the realm bordering ours — by his father Josh (Patrick Wilson), who rescued him from the clutches of a hideous demon. But another entity has been lying in wait (insidiously, you might say) and now has its hold on Josh.
Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), the medium who helped Josh cross over, has been strangled by whatever lurks inside Josh and is dead. And after Josh is cleared by police (the DNA on Elise’s neck wasn’t his), they attempt to return to some semblance of a normal life. But his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) both sense something is off. Boy, are they right.
Fearing the worst, Lorraine enlists the help of Carl (Steve Coulter), who helped Elise chase this parasite away from Josh way back in 1986, which we see in the beginning of the film. With the help of Elise’s old team, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell, who wrote the screenplay) they embark on a quest to discover the secret of this entity and save everyone from the dead seeping into the Lambert house.
Get all that? If not, there’s no shame. Because from there, it only gets more complex, delving deeper into the past and explaining minor events in the first film more clearly and providing a larger context for them. Insidiception, I guess.
Director James Wan, who already scored big this summer with “The Conjuring,” knows what he’s doing. With each film, he becomes more masterful at directing the audience’s eyes right where he wants to go. Fluctuating between the pale blues of the further and the deep crimson (which usually coincides with the on-screen appearance of evil), he masterfully makes the harmless and familiar ominous.
The final product (both films viewed in tandem) is a remarkable love letter to the haunted house genre. It’s not “The Innocents,” but it’s probably as close as one can get in 2013. Every creak, piano note and bump evokes a feeling of dread. And Wan’s sweeping camera movements coupled with Joseph Bishara’s operatic score lend a tongue-in-cheek solemnity to the entire thing. This is a good old fashioned spook show, and everyone involved knows it.
Every major player from the first film comes back, sometimes in the form of actual clips from the first film (think “Back to the Future 2”). All of them, even the children, manage to deliver great performances. But Lin Shaye’s Elise once again steals the show. Her steely determination and kind smile provide a strange aura of comfort every time she’s on screen.
If you haven’t seen “Insidious,” it would be very easy to get lost in this story, or think Wan is cheating by recycling the same old tricks. But they’re the same tricks because this is the second half of the same film. Viewers would do well to watch the first installment before venturing off to the theater. You’ll enjoy it much more.
Like its counterpart, there are moments when the film slips into silliness and, briefly, tedium. But as a whole these two films are a damn good time, and well worth a watch…especially for those whose inner demons need purging.