At this point, I have learned how the word "insidious" applies to the plots of both movies.
Director: James Wan
Studios: IM Global, Entertainment One, Blumhouse Productions
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye
Tagline: "It Will Take What You Love Most"
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: horror, terror, thriller, drama, haunting, ghost, possession, family drama, sequel
Scare score: B
Plot overview: After the terrifying events of the first film, the Lambert family has moved into husband/ father Josh's (Wilson) childhood home. When the haunting still does not stop, distrust grows strong between Josh and his wife Renai (Byrne), and tensions continue mounting. With paranormal investigator Elise (Shaye) now dead following the events of the first movie, Renai and Lorraine (Hershey), Josh's mother, reach out to Carl (Coulter), a fellow medium and old friend of Elise. Together, the family, Carl, and a team of paranormal investigators - Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson) - must return to the family's past in order to save its future, traveling through time, space, and The Further in order to do so.
Aptly released on Friday the 13th, we have here the long-awaited sequel to 2011's landmark Insidious. Wan and Whannell have teamed up again to bring us this film, which picks up directly where the first movie left off. In fact, as a warning to all viewers, if you have not seen/ do not have any previous knowledge of the first film, that's a much better place to start than this one. You will most likely not understand any of this movie unless you see Insidious first.
That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with just how much of the first movie is included in this film. They are very much like two puzzle pieces, with the first one perhaps being written/ shot to set up many sequences of this sequel. This second one, however, does largely switch from a haunting theme focusing on external terrors to a domestic drama where much of the horror as been internalized. I said this in my entry on Insidious last fall, and now I can confirm that this movie is very much focused on the family aspect of the Lambert's, with husband and wife now becoming estranged, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is wide awake, baby Kali (Brynn and Madison Bowie) is growing up, and they have all moved in with grandma Lorraine. Quick side note as far as the family is concerned: how cute is the other (non-astral-projecting) son Foster (Andrew Astor)? That kid couldn't be cuter, and he is a talented child actor. Way to go, kid. Anywho, there was much less of a barrage of ghosts this time around, and instead we had a huge spike in physical confrontations, domestic violence, and also in dumb humor. To draw in from fan favorites, in this second film there is much less Poltergeist while allusions to The Shining (daddy problems) and Psycho (mommy problems) become impossible to miss. The perfect family is deconstructed through various generations, torn apart by loss, separation, and distrust; gender and identity roles become confused, the father is not always the hero and the mother is not always the victim with children saving parents and vice-versa.
What the Insidious movies certainly do right is the soundtrack (Joseph Bishara) and look. Like yeah I guess the whole eerie violin and strings bit has been done before (Psycho), but it evolves here and the creative team was just not afraid to have that shrill sound up high and then bang the piano way down low. This creates my favorite "boom" moments, starting with the title sequence of the movie; when they flash that big, red "INSIDIOUS" across the screen there's something truly ominous albeit campy about it.
Where as in the first film the action is centered around the Lambert family and Dalton's coma, this film is split up into multiple, simultaneous story lines with various acts of their own. These can be described as: physical Josh's situation with him first trying to keep the voices out of his head and later with his attack upon his family; spiritual Josh's situation being first trapped in The Further and then venturing through it (and space and time) to save himself and his family; Specs and Tucker's life post-Elise and their eventual teaming up with Carl; and finally Renai's predicament, her work with Lorraine and Carl, and her protection of her children.
The first big split comes during the exposition after the introduction to the Lambert's current situation when we are suddenly switched to the light-hearted nature of the bumbling comic duo. On account of Specs being played by screenwriter Leigh Whannell, I couldn't help but dislike some of this stupid humor, which wasn't quite '80s corniness but rather a flat, modern humor. I can't help but picture Whannell sitting there writing and picturing these stupid jokes, typical of a cliche dumb duo (although both characters are intelligent investigators), and then in reality for audiences we have these two guys who are now 200% more important than they were in the first film, and their strange jokes merely provide an uncertain interlay between scarier sequences. Admittedly, I did laugh at the "ninja, bear" bit, and I liked both characters very much. In general, I was not crazy about Whannell's script, which felt very fake and unnatural to me throughout.
At times the splits made the film more confusing; I wasn't sure if a ghost was about to slap Renai unconscious or if Tucker was going to spill jelly doughnut on his shirt or hurt his testicles. Am I worried about cross-dressing ghosts in The Further or about physical Josh screaming in the mirror and pulling out teeth? One thing this divided script certainly did was break up the movie into lighter and darker parts, making it seem less scary in general, less serious, and certainly nowhere near as chock-full-of-thrills as the first installment. Splitting up the movie this way also let many supporting actors step out of their shells and shine a bit more on screen such as our investigating duo, the children, Lorraine, and our new friend Carl.
In general I was surprised about the role of Renai. In my post on the first film I comment on how she is depicted because while she is certainly strong, intelligent, and relentless in the protection of her family, she is a victim of her family and household situation. We can assume that she is a stay-at-home mom by choice, which allows her to write music (when not being plagued by demons) which we can assume is her passion. (How the family is getting enough money for all these great houses on Josh's teacher salary is beyond me). Still, during the events of these movies (and even in peacetime) we can see her being stuck at home taking care of kids or doing domestic work. Even the movie poster here shows her actively protecting her family with a domestic weapon, and the engagement ring is still flaunted. She is by no means passive when it comes to helping Dalton in the first film and protecting all of the children in this one, but in both movies our main protagonist and then main antagonist, respectively, are played by Patrick Wilson. Renai is a crucial, strong, and easy-to-like character with a strange balance of shock/ naiveté and just enough mother's/wife's intuition. Also, she is wise from the ending of the first movie to the entity inside of her husband. In this movie I was honestly very, very surprised at the amount of physical abuse she takes whether it's at the hand of a malicious spirit or her husband, be it a slap to the face or a teapot chucked at her head (my mouth dropped at that point). It felt almost wrong to me to see so much realistic, domestic violence in this movie. I mean we're talking about the writer of Saw so I guess it's no surprise- but at the same time in most horror movies we see supernatural, over-the-top gory violence that seems so unreal to us it becomes less realistically scary. Instead here we see very real, terrible man-on-woman violence. The distressed spirit possessing Josh doesn't even distinguish here between children and adults, making us fear for the safety of the baby and the children just as much if not more than the lives of Lorraine and Renai. In this movie, Renai is ignored, isolated, haunted, hit, choked, and then beaten savagely before locking herself in the basement with her children, left to do nothing more than await her fate. While the fate of the family is in the hands of the existential Josh, and while he must right the spiritual and physical wrongs (with some help), the role of Renai still feels too "victim-y" for me, and I would like to read a feminist review of the film, which in of itself is certainly heavy on psychosexual abuse and material.
The big star here is Patrick Wilson (who always reminds me of Will Arnett so it's hard for me to take him seriously) in a role that juxtaposes him from his hero status in the first film. With creepy makeup and annoying smiles, physical Josh is easy to hate in this sequel. The ending of the first movie tips us off that Josh perhaps hasn't returned from The Further, the realm which I believe the creative team really thinks is their trump card here. I wasn't entirely on that bandwagon after the first movie, but I was so happy to see how the sequel utilized and even interpreted The Further, making it a timeless, spaceless place where entities are both anonymous and personal; a place of memory and forgotten pasts; a place where darkness consumes light. Was the first film written with the events of the second film in mind? Or did the team here just really put together the right amount of overlay, lapsing chronology and terror together? I really loved all of the allusions to the first movie: the terrible banging on the front door, that alarm system going off, the long-haired fiend stalking the house - and now all of it has an explanation. I could have done without Elise's "So that's what that was all about" moment, but I think she's the cutest thing (as I assume many viewers do as well; a Tangina Barrons type that we feel safe around and want to trust) so she is forgiven for Whannell's script. Another question I do have about the time-traveling Further sequence is when spiritual Josh returns to young Josh during his first meeting with Elise, why is it that the Bride in Black "lives" in the basement? Does every home happen to have a red door leading to The Further, visible to only astral projectors? Just wondering if there was any significance there.
Where as in the first movie I thought the sequences in The Further were over the top and even unnecessary, filling up time with suspense and no scares and then cartooning the red demon, I thought The Further really evolved in the sequel: what can't you do when the laws of physics and time no longer apply? We saw some great visual stuff (the whole movie I thought was tastefully well done in an unsettling way; from the red stained-glass window of the house to the crowded, dark, Victorian rooms to Elise's cluttered reading room in the basement- beautiful and creepy stuff) with great colors, imagery, family issues, distressed souls, torture chambers... the list goes on. Luckily the creepy rocking horses and dollhouses and bodies covered in sheets all applied to the plot this time without the need for mannequin, '50s families and other unnecessary frights. Was that drawing young Parker (Tyler Griffin) makes (and is reprimanded for) also drawn by Wan using his left hand? Looked like the same artist as Dalton's work in the first movie.
I really enjoyed the investigation into the Bride in Black as well as the entire subplot involved there. I know that the whole forced cross-dressing bit received some laughs from my audience, but I do think it was a creepy and intriguing area to explore considering the psychological condition of old Parker (Tom Fitzpatrick) who I thought was very creepy. Honestly I think it was great that this freaky old woman turned out to be a man; fun fact: she was played by a male actor in the first film as well. For me, the abduction and killing of all these young girls in the past (great neighborhood) was really eerie; it employed a further sense of suburban terror. It was also interesting in comparison that this film focused on two ghosts/ one ghost and one possession rather than the first movie's virtual carnival of souls. The concept of this possession causing Josh's body to decay was pretty foul, and we enjoyed the strange, Norman Bates-like internal struggle of old Parker inside of Josh. So many layers of fun.
The last thing really to comment on is the last scene of the movie. Our dream team (minus Carl?) now seems to be doing regular cases with the spirit of Elise helping ward off malicious, insidious spirits from living humans. I didn't love her shocked "Oh my God" face with nothing visual on our mere human end- did I miss something, maybe? Was it a really scary demon only Elise could see? Because there are rumors that you could heard that red demon making noises (and was he really that hard to defeat the first time around? Loser.), but I didn't hear anything. Just seemed like a very big, very obvious set up to a part three that might not happen, and that most likely won't be centered around the Lambert family.
Final critique: I enjoyed this movie, and I think calling it "Chapter 2" is only appropriate as it is a direct continuation of the first film. This installment would be very difficult to fully understand without seeing the first one, so go have a back-to-back horror movie night! There are certainly less scares this time around, but there is more suspense built up in the plot and more (too much) physical violence between characters. What's interesting to me is that where as in the first film the plot was more focused and the scares were random at time, in this movie the scares are more concentrated but the plot itself is more scattered into the various stories. I thought the look and feel of this movie was great while the script and acting was on the poor side. I would still love to see it again should anybody like to spot me $11 for another movie ticket. Overall, a pretty fulfilling continuation of the events of the first movie.