BY EMILY GAGNE AND MICHELLE MEDFORD
To say we loved Insidious would be an understatement. From the initial hints at a possible sequel, we’ve been counting down the days to this supernatural family-centric horror. So, we decided to work together to scare up an indepth review.
M: It’s always tough to write a sequel, let alone a sequel that will please audiences who loved the first (see: Scream 2 references). I was among those who LOVED Insidious, so much that I would include it in my top 10 favourite horrors of all time (possibly even top 5). So, while I was beyond excited for the sequel, I was also very apprehensive. I wanted to loved it but I didn’t want to set the bar too high. Of course, it didn’t help that Leigh Whannell was writing it again, because part of the reasons sequels suck is the change of directors or writers. And as I’d hoped, Whannell didn’t disappoint. The story picks up just moments after the first ended — covering the aftermath of Elise (Lin Shaye)’s death and Josh’s (Patrick Wilson) possession — and continues seamlessly. The tone is the same, the story progresses naturally and the cast is back. It is everything a sequel should be, horror or otherwise. If the series continues on and Whannell stays on board, it may just become one of the greatest horror series of all time.
E: I actually had the opposite feeling as Michelle going into this. Knowing both Wan and Whannell were back for this follow-up to one of the best modern horror fillms, I was unafraid to go in with high expectations. And I’m happy to report they blew them out of the water and then some.
To be honest, I wasn’t all that psyched to see the original Insidious, as I’m less of a ghost girl and more of a slasher slut. So I was almost surprised that I loved it so much. But even I can’t resist some compelling, original storytelling. And the story in this latest instalment is even more interesting and surprising than the first, as it honours what worked about the original (i.e. the concept of “The Further,” a realm where demons reside as they attempt to infiltrate human vessels) before going in an entirely new, balls-to-the-wall direction. This version really thrives off of flashbacks, which could make up a movie of their own thanks to the perfectly cast unknown actors tasked with playing young versions of Elise, Josh, Barbara Hershey’s Lorraine, Steve Coulter’s Carl.
Speaking of spinoff films, after learning a little bit more about one of the demons seen at the end of the first film, I’ve got my fingers crossed Wan and Whannell have a new franchise in their back pockets.
E: I love great horror comedy as much as I love great straight-up horror. But it is a genre of its own, and only few films can truly balance perfect jokes with perfect kills/scares.
This film tries to bring some brevity to the otherwise fairly straightforward scary proceedings with some jokey moments here and there. But none of them really work. The main problem is that while the rest of the story is extremely nuanced and well-written, these moments are all too corny and unoriginal (think repeated digs at the “fat” — read: not as skinny as the other guy — demon hunter). The only person who really gets away with a one-liner here is horror comedy pro Shaye (2001 Maniacs, Critters, Chillerama). But then again, she can honestly get away with murder of any and every manner in my books. (No, that’s not meant to be a secret spoiler or anything. When it comes to this movie — a true original — spoilers are no joking matter.)
If anything, the funniest moments in Insidious: Chapter 2 are the unintentional ones. Strangely, I don’t mean that in a bad way. There’s a definite dark camp factor to the latter half of the film and how you react to it will likely define how you feel about the entire thing. Personally, I thought Wan’s unabashed commitment to his over-the-top twist was marvellous, and made the climax of this Insidious much more challenging and enthralling than the first.
M: Unlike Em, I’m generally not a fan of horror comedies. I like to BE scared and on edge throughout, never feeling the safety of laughter. However, the comedy worked for me in this film. It wasn’t overdone and it wasn’t in your face; it was subtle and worthy of a snicker or two but not an all-out laugh. It fit in with the tone of the film, making for a fun and undistracting touch. I was happy that Angus and Spec returned as the quirky, comic relief, but maybe partly because they take “ghost hunting” so seriously themselves, I can accept it. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the comedic elements, because this film takes the supernatural so seriously (as I do in real life), that I didn’t feel it cheapened the effect (which is often how I feel about horror-comedies).
HORROR AND HORROR INFLUENCES
E: While certainly not as terrifying as its predecessor (see: the camp factor mentioned in the Humour section), there’s a lingering spookiness to Insidious: Chapter 2 that can’t be ignored. It’s not one that will get everyone’s blood pumping, but if introspective, family-based horror films like The Shining or Psycho bother you, it could follow you home for at least a night.
With all the evil Josh stuff, Wilson’s hammy performance and the “little boy as spiritual vessel” motif, there’s actually a lot of The Shining in Insidious: Chapter 2. Heck, there’s even a door scene that near-echoes the climax of that infamous Stephen King-inspired flick. Not to mention the repeated use of red doors and windows.
The ending of the film also recalls a famous ‘80s slasher film with a controversial ending, but I won’t dare say which one.
M: I agree that this film is not as terrifying as the first. The first literally kept me up at night, for multiple nights in a row. Even when I rewatched it, I had trouble sleeping again. I was hoping the sequel would do the same (it’s all in the fun of it, isn’t it?), but it didn’t. Part of what worked for the first was that when you saw the demon, he was still terrifying. In this film, all I saw was a woman in make-up. At times, it was just too obvious for me. There were still the unexpected moments and chilling elements, but sometimes she was just in your face for no reason and it wasn’t scary. That being said, one time after the film, I closed my eyes and was afraid that I might open them to find myself in The Further. But that was only once.
E: One of the most tantamount terrors of Insidious was the stabbing, string-based score by Joseph Bishara. He’s back for this one too, and the music is just as discomforting and wonderful this time around. As opening titles crash through with that wicked violin riff, the sneaky tone of the film is once again set, and Bishara keeps it up by layering slowed down versions over top of the lead-up to the pop up spooks that follow.
In addition to Bishara, there’s frequent use of Chopin and an acapella version of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” A piano even becomes a character piece at one point, as Renai has some close encounters of sorts with some phantom keys and a certain original song. That subplot really hammers home the importance of music in a horror film, albeit in a slightly obvious way.
M: Like Em says, the score was amazing (as it was the first time around too), but what really got me were the subtle details in the setting (let alone the brilliant settings as a whole). For example, did you notice the metal hand fixture on Dalton’s bed’s headboard? It looks like it’s about to grab him–obviously intentional. There are tons of ominous abstract paintings in the background–one African-inspired portrait clearly channelling the film’s first demon. And don’t even get me started on Elise’s room. Red candle wax dripping down skull candle holders like blood, a (bridal?) veiled light fixture with sharp edges, and let’s not forget the gas mask on the mannequin “watching” them the entire time. If you were blown away by the overall chilling set design, give this movie a second watch and pay close attention to the background, corners and shadows. It gives it an even creepier undertone.
E: A stellar, if not superior sequel that takes an already-haunting ghost story into a fabulously fantastical and fresh sector of The Further.
M: A near-perfect sequel to one of my favourite horror movies of all time.