The fine people who bring us INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 are very serious about spoilers. While we in the reviewing press are almost always given an embargo date before which we are not supposed to post a formal review and/or any sort of critique in social media, before being allowed to attend the only press screening here in San Francisco for this film, we were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Its the first time any of us can remember that happening. It might be a publicity stunt, the way registered nurses, or people dressed like them anyway, were posted in theaters showing shocking films back in the golden days of ballyhoo as practiced by, among others, the storied Samuel Z. Arkoff. On the other hand, INSIDIOUS 2 is a film that is every bit as creepily entertaining as its predecessor. And anyone who would want to spoil the fun with a spoiler invites a karmic payback, non-disclosure form or not.
After a flashback that fills out the backstory of the first film, it picks up the action right where that film left off, overlapping the end of INSIDIOUS as the once and future harried Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) explains to a police detective that she doesnt believe her mild-mannered husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) killed Elise (Lin Shaye) the nurturing medium that helped rescue their son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), from his supernatural coma. The detective is skeptical. Renai is not so much convinced of Joshs innocence as she is determined to leave behind the ghostly interference that has plagued her family. With that in mind, and because their own home is a crime scene, the Lamberts move into the quaint 19th-century house of Joshs mom, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). We know from the first film that its not houses that are haunted in this universe, but rather people to whom spirits have become attached. Still the fact that the flashback that started things off took place in Lorraines home should be a clue that things will not be peaceful for the Lamberts, that and the fact that at this point we are only 30 minutes or so into the movie. Lovely as the stenciled walls and period furniture are, we are not here to see the family take high tea in the parlor. And we are not disappointed. At no time is tea served, and when refreshments are offered, its usually with ulterior motives.
It starts with Dalton having a bad dream. Then baby Callie is menaced. Only Daltons younger brother, Foster (Andrew Astor), is left relatively alone, but watching his parents dip off the deep end (again) cant be good for his psyche. In short order, Elises assistants, Specs (screenwriter Leigh Wannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), are called in, as is a former assistant, Carl (Steve Coulter), and together they bravely delve into why the spirits are still with the Lamberts.
Having Specs and Tucker back would alone be worth the price of admission. The mis-matched pair, the former diminutive behind his eponymous glasses, the latter bearlike in size, are not just the comic relief but also unlikely heroes whose antics and dauntless spirit (no pun intended) are the perfect counterpart to the very dark doings playing out. Those doings date back to not just Joshs past, but also to Lorraines, and will take the one to buildings abandoned only by the living, and the other on another trip to The Further, the place between life and death, where some questions are answered, but others are left tantalizingly occult.
As with INSIDIOUS, the story is told with suggestion more than with effects, and director James Wans mastery of sound, both soft and loud, not to mention its timing, is once again superb. Most of the effects are practical, which lends a verisimilitude to them that makes them all the scarier for the odd sort of familiarity they evoke. A door opens on its own. Is it the wind? That noise in the other room could have a rational explanation, or is that just wishful thinking? When the supernatural does show itself, its not with blaring music and jump cuts designed to make us jump. Its just sitting there, minding its own business in a quiet corner, all the more terrifying for not being noticed, and for making us wonder what its going to do next. Yet nothing is more terrifying than the image of Josh, framed in a doorway, sunlight glowing behind him, streaming around him, and yet leaving him a looming darkness in the midst of it. As Josh and Renai once again become unhinged, both Wilson and Byrne give wonderfully understated but resonant performances, but its Wilson who dominates the screen with a finely calibrated exploration of mental, physical, and moral decay.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 uses several tropes from the first film, but never relies on them to tell this part of the story. The odd scuba-like apparatus from the original séance makes a cameo appearance, but this time the dead speak with a more portable, and somehow more chilling device as the story loops back to the original, annotating the action with a tidy sleight-of-hand that meshes perfectly with what has come before. Imaginative, seriously terrifying, and infused with intelligence and macabre brand of puckish humor, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 is a welcome sequel and an even more welcome jumping off point for the franchise it promises to become.