All chiller, no filler
As every filmgoer knows, a good sequel is difficult to get right -- a good horror sequel, even more so. Not only must it find a way to serve up a terrifyingly good time without the benefit of the mystery behind the first instalment, but it should avoid simply retreading old territory and should even expand on the original's mythos. Insidious: Chapter 2 ticks all of those checkboxes, and it does so with maniacal glee.
Last we left Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), he had ventured into the Further, a limbo between the land of the living and that of the dead, to retrieve his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) from the clutches of an evil entity. But when he returned, he brought something other than his son back with him. This sequel picks up directly after those events, with his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) struggling to decide if the man that came back that night was in fact her husband. Trying to resume a normal family life again, she soon realizes that not everything is as it seems -- and that the evil that once menaced them has unfinished business with her family. The rest of the principle cast from the first film also makes a return for this follow-up, including Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson. For those that haven't seen Chapter 1, Chapter 2 neatly recaps the obligatory plot points, and provides additional backstory, before delving head first into the suspense.
Unlike other recent horror pics, Chapter 2 doesn't dole out gore to generate its scares, instead opting for a mixture of classic horror movie tactics (like jump scares and loud audio cues) and general creepiness to keep audiences cringing in their seats. If you're familiar with some of director James Wan's previous films (Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring), then you'll instantly recognize his modus operandi. It's signature Wan all the way through, with an abundance of atmosphere and moody imagery to help sustain the frights. The fact that the film doesn't take itself too seriously is a boon as well. The inclusion of some humor saves it from teetering into parody in those scenes that rely just a little too heavily on horror movie clichés. Consider checkbox number one ticked. On to checkbox number two ...
Rather than sticking with the tried and true, the sequel takes the original's Poltergeist/Amityville formula and goes ... well, Further ... by throwing a little of The Shining into the mix, to keep things interesting. It also improves on the original formula by addressing a problem with Chapter 1 (and horror movies in general, to a certain extent) -- which is that once the unknown becomes known, it ceases to terrify. Not true here, as discovering the story behind the ghastly Bride in Black only serves to disturb audiences even more ... which brings us to checkbox number three ...
You may think you know all there is to know about the world of Insidious from Chapter 1, but Chapter 2 still manages to squeeze some surprises out of the lore. On top of providing depth and backstory for a character that wasn't much more than a figurehead of terror in the original (while serving up a wink to fans who are familiar with the special effects secrets of the Bride in Black), it also explains more of the Lamberts' connection with the entity, as well as the workings of the Further. Who would have guessed that time travel (of sorts) was also possible in limbo? Well, it is -- and the film uses this device to harken back to earlier points in the story, and even back to the events of the first film. It does so rather creatively as well, without retconning anything in Chapter 1. Combined with the expanded backstory of the Bride in Black, the overall effect is a real sense of cohesion that binds the two films together as one intriguing tale.
The Bottom Line
Insidious: Chapter 2 is a fitting successor to the first film. Its deceptively plain title is surprisingly apt because it genuinely feels like a necessary continuation of the story and not some tacked-on cash-in, as horror sequels often are. It's an enjoyable film to boot, with no shortage of chills to thrill moviegoers. Whether or not you're familiar with Chapter 1, Chapter 2 is worth a watch.
Review Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Recommended)