Movie Review: “Insidious: Chapter 2″

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Let me get right to the point and answer the one question that everybody has regarding this particular film.

Yes, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is scary.

In fact, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is a talk-to-the-screen, hands-over-your-eyes, truly frightening cinematic experience… and I absolutely LOVED it.

Picking up mere moments after the cliffhanger ending of the first film, the prolific filmmaking duo of James Wan (the director of films like “Saw,” this summer’s hit “The Conjuring,” and next summer’s hit “Fast & Furious 7″) and Leigh Whannell (the screenwriter and Wan’s right-hand man) make it blatantly obvious that this is a continuation of 2010’s “Insidious,” not a restart or a reboot. The pair could have just as easily crafted a tale that followed the same pattern as “American Horror Story” – constructing a totally different storyline following a completely separate family in a brand new setting – but they didn’t. And I admire them for doing so.

Instead, they kept the action going with the Lambert family, who were tortured and tormented by malevolent spirits that haunted not just one, but TWO houses they lived in throughout the events of film one. However, as Elise (the resident spiritual medium from the first film played perfectly by Lin Shaye) so aptly put it, “It’s not the house that’s haunted, it’s your son.”

And so went the events of “Insidious,” as the aforementioned Lambert family went

Lambert Fam in "Insidious 2"

The Lambert Family… TV’s next reality show?

to sleep one night in their new house and all but one of them woke up. That one slumbering member of the clan was young Dalton (Ty Simpkins) who inexplicably fell into a coma-like state. Dalton’s parents Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne – I still love her most as Jackie Q) took him to the hospital, where doctors were baffled by his condition. Three months later Dalton’s still comatose body was moved from the hospital and back to the Lambert residence, where he was hooked up to all sorts of feeding tubes, respirators and ventilators.

Then things started getting weird.

I don’t think I should go into ALL the details and events from part one, so I’ll hook you up with the short and sweet version.

Renai started seeing weird stuff, so the family moved away from house # 1, but Renai was STILL seeing weird stuff. So, Lorraine, who is Josh’s mom (a back-for-more Barbara Hershey), called her psychic friend Elise and her two, bumbling assistants Specs (screenwriter Whannell pulling double-duty) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who let the Lamberts know that Dalton is not really in a coma (well, duh!). He actually had astral-projected to a limbo-like place called “The Further,” where dead people like to hang out, and now he’s been captured by a nasty demon.

It seems that the demon wanted to trap Dalton’s soul in The Further, so he could sneak in and occupy his body in the physical world. Elise also informed Josh that he

Young Josh in "Insidious 2"

This is why I don’t take pictures… menacing hidden hands.

used to have the same astral projecting ability, but she was forced to wipe his mind clean of the childhood incident, due to the fact that there was an entity that tried to do the same thing to young Josh that the demon is now doing to Dalton. Are ya still with me? Good.

So, into The Further Josh went, to find and rescue his son, which he eventually did… but at a cost. Wouldn’t ya know it, Josh ran into that same malicious entity from his childhood – a super-creepy old woman (it was the fact that she smiled the whole time that made her so creepy – I hate it when they smile) wearing a jet-black, Victorian-style wedding dress with a jet-black, frilly wedding veil. Josh yelled as he faced-off with the spirit in a mirror, “What do you want from me?! I’m not afraid of you! Get away from me!” He did this until she apparently disappeared and Josh returned in one piece, Dalton finally woke up, and all was well.

Ummh… not exactly.

It turned out that Josh did NOT make the old woman go away. On the contrary, the old woman got to Josh’s sleeping form before he did – trapping Josh in The Further and leaving the creepy old lady in control of his body. Of course, Elise, and her intuitive extrasensory ability, figured this out by taking his/her picture (a spirit’s

Lin Shaye and Rose Byrne in Insidious 2

Not Fur Elise. Dead Elise.

true self is exposed on film… supposedly) and Josh/old woman strangled her to death for her nosiness. A horrified Renai discovered Elise’s dead body, as well as the last photo Elise snapped. As Renai was looking at the picture and freaking out, Josh came up behind her and uttered, “I’m right here.” Renai turned around with a frozen gaze of terror and… the words “Insidious” appeared on the screen and the film was over.

I have to say, I have seen my share of horror films and “Insidious” was one of the creepiest I’ve ever witnessed. That being said, as I was writing this, an old friend of mine contacted me on Facebook. After I posted how scary I thought “Insidious: Chapter Two” was, she wrote back to me, “but the first one was SO BAD.”

My friend’s sentiment is not an isolated one. I’ve noticed that “Insidious” is an extremely polarizing film. Either people loved it and thought it was the most utterly terrifying thing they’d ever seen. “I had to call out of work the next day, cuz I couldn’t sleep,” another friend confided in me after watching “Insidious.” Or, they absolutely hated it and thought it was cheesy; with corny special effects and ineffective makeup techniques.

Most of the ire was aimed towards the primary entity that was after Dalton – a slimy demon, which was all black from head-to-toe, had cloven hooves for feet, a spiky tail, long, sharp, metal fingernails, listened to Tiny Tim’s rendition of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” and painted its face red with lipstick (which Wan described as the demon’s way of “trying to amuse children, in order to get close to them.”).Sounds creepy enough, right? Well, I thought so anyway. However, a number of viewers thought the demon was too reminiscent of Darth Maul – a paunchier, weirder, less menacing version of Darth Maul.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter which way you lean. If a movie has people talking, whether positively or negatively, you know you’ve affected them in some way.


Nevertheless, if you were one of the ones that saw the first film and couldn’t stand

Insidous 2 entity

This is that creepy old woman I’ve been telling you about. I hate her.

the red-faced demon, I have great news. He does not make an appearance in “Insidious: Chapter 2.” Instead, the film focuses on the creepy old woman and what the hell happened to Josh at the end of the first film.

The film starts off at the exact moment where the first one ends. There is no “3 months later” or “28 days later” shenanigans. Nope. Elise is dead, Renai is pissing her pants and Josh looks like he’s the culprit.

Well, let’s hold on a moment, shall we? Before we get to any of the present-day proceedings – with the Lambert fam and their ghostly homicide – we are treated to a flashback sequence back in 1986, involving that aforementioned session with a young Elise, a young Lorraine and a young Josh when the creepy old woman was supposedly pestering Josh for the first time and attempting to pull the old “switch-a-roo” with his physical body. We are also introduced to Carl for the first time, who is one of Elise’s colleagues.

This scene is extremely tense and had me slumping down in my chair, with my eyes glued-to-the-screen. Wan and Whannell have mastered the ability to take an uncomfortable situation and crank the level up to an eleven. In this case, the use of the kid’s game “hot and cold” transforms a simple walk around an old home into a creepy jaunt through an eerie haunted house.

Wan’s direction has a subtlety and beauty to it and he never feels the need to hit you over the head to get your attention. He simply draws a scene out, slowly raising the audience’s level of anxiety higher… and higher… and higher, until all he has to do is simply sneak up behind you and tap you on the shoulder and you pretty much crap your pants.

QUICK SIDE NOTE: However, I do have one complaint to make against Whannell and his screenplay.  I was watching a behind-the-scenes segment that was on the “Bonus Features” section of the “Insidious” DVD.  Whannell was proud to say that he wrote the first film very conscious of the fact that he didn’t want any “jump-scares” or scenes that had a “false payoff.” I’m sad to say that there is more than one occasion where these types of cheap, spill-your-popcorn moments end up rearing their ugly head. Come on guys, you promised. I mean, I expect this from films like “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” or “The Colony,” but not from a James Wan/ Leigh Whannell collaboration. I couldn’t help but be disappointed as a character was getting in their car, when a second character entered into the frame and abruptly yelled – scaring the character and startling the audience. Not cool… not from you guys.

The first act of the film basically answers the questions that the audience was left

Ty Simpkins sees SEVERAL dead people.

A child’s sexy dream gone waaaay wrong.

with after film one. It may take a little while to get to them, but the answers do come nonetheless.

I take it that Wan felt he had to show the obligatory police interrogation scene, as there WAS an actual murder victim in the Lambert house after Elise was choked to death. The scene is used to provide some data as to what happened in the last film (for those that might not have seen “Insidious” and are coming into the film cold), but in the end it’s just ridiculous.

The skeptical and unimpressed police officer (Michael Beach) who’s interrogating Renai notifies her that the marks left on Elise’s throat were left by a human and not by a ghost… but… HE LETS JOSH GO HOME WHILE THEY WAIT FOR THE DNA RESULTS!! That’s just crazy! If he was a real suspect in a real homicide there would be NO BAIL. He would be locked up. But, in the end, I guess an incarcerated Josh wouldn’t have added that much terror to the story. Unless… they made it a prison ghost story. That might’ve been interesting too, but I digress.

Eventually, Josh is cleared by the cops and we’re not bothered by those annoying law enforcement officers again. Phew. However, we do eventually figure out that Josh HAS been possessed by the old woman and that the old woman is not an old woman at all. It’s an old man.

To be more specific: it’s an old man named Parker Crane, who liked to dress up in a

Patrick Wilson does his Scream impersonation.

Excedrin headache number 666.

black wedding gown and do unspeakable things to his unfortunate female victims when he was alive. Now that he’s dead, Parker Crane didn’t exactly go through any kind of spiritual change. He’s still quite the homicidal jerk and he’s making Josh seem like HE’S a homicidal jerk as well. So, this Parker Crane’s gotta be stopped, right? Yes, and act two is the time to do it – according to Lorraine, Specs, Tucker (who are back for the sequel – providing more comic relief and an awesome alternative form of “rock, paper, scissors” called “hunter, ninja, bear”) and the new guy, Carl (character actor Steve Coulter) – aka: the Scooby Gang.

Of course, this only occurs after the entire first act is dedicated to looking like a carbon copy of the events of “Insidious.” Renai walks into a room – nothing there. Then, she hears something in the other room and walks over to investigate – nothing there. THEN, she hears something in the room she was just in. She goes back to investigate, but – you guessed it – nothing there. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Hey, it works every, single time and results in the audience peeing their pants a little. So, why not go back to the well for an oldie-but-goodie? I know I would, if I was Wan and Whannell.

Eventually, Renai DOES see something and (like I said before) Wan is able to crank the terror way past ten better than anybody else in horror movies today. Things don’t work out great for Renai, as she comes in contact with an ill-tempered, female spirit with an old-timey white dress and a bun hairdo. Let’s just say, she and her newly-discovered ghost will not be going out to Starbucks for a Mocha Latte anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the Scooby Gang are out having their own problems. They’ve been

Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson

This is when you curse the fact you bought dollar store batteries for those flashlights.

trying to contact the spirit of Elise (remember: she’s dead) by letting Carl perform his unique spirit-contacting technique, which is a cross between Yahtzee and a Ouija board, but they’ve reached a snag. It seems that Elise wants them to go to an abandoned hospital where Lorraine used to work, in order to find the answers they seek. Or is it Elise at all?

I’m not gonna spoil things and tell you if it is or not OR what they find at the hospital OR what happens to Renai, Dalton, and his younger siblings Foster and baby Kali OR where the hell is the “real” Josh OR who is this Parker Crane and is the lady in the white dress related to the mystery OR any of the other question-inducing situations that pop-up throughout this old school creepfest.

I will say this, though. As the movie picks up steam, it pushes itself further (last pun, I swear) away from its predecessor and obtains an identity of its own. I love the fact that the action splits the group into two halves and turns Josh (well, Josh’s physical form anyway) into the primary antagonist. Josh’s transformation is a great deal like Jack Torrance’s descent into madness in “The Shining,” but Wilson doesn’t play it that way. He keeps his charismatic charm, but drapes a dark layer over top of it. He manages to take this character, that you fully empathized with in the first film, and change him into a dastardly villain – without twisting his moustache even once.

Cinematographer John R. Leonetti’s does a fantastic job of lighting Wilson from the bottom, to give him that creepy campfire look, in an homage to the days when CGI wasn’t a prerequisite for a horror flick. Joseph Bishara’s musical soundtrack is as jarring and creepy as ever (whenever I mention “Insidious,” people always talk about how much they love the musical score). And Whannell’s screenplay gets juicier and juicier as it goes on, delving deeper into the mythology of the world that “Insidious” created.

Whannell’s script also fits pieces from the first film into the second film and even manages to fit pieces from the beginning of the second film into pieces from the end

Insidious 2 screaming ghost

What a snitch…

of the second film. It’s quite amazing to hear a collective, “Oh my god” or “Oh shit, that’s what that was,” during a film screening. I also love the communal electricity that surges through the audience after a good scare. It’s exhilarating.

So here’s a new question that I have to ask you. We already know that the movie is scary, but what I want to know NOW is this…

If you have a film that aligns perfectly with its antecedent AND adds a new layer of back story and canon to the original, so much so that if you watched both films back-to-back it would create a seamless, bone-chilling tale of terror AND also creates another cliffhanger situation that could eventually lead to a third film…

Is “Insidious: Chapter 2” not the perfect horror movie sequel?

Well, I think it is.

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