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WRITTEN REVIEW: Insidious 2: A Fashionably Late Review

Enjoy the second – and much more fantastically horrorlike – chapter of the trilogy before heading off to see Insidious: Chapter 3.

Now that Insidious: Chapter 3 is here and the world is buzzing from it, it’s time to take a small step back in this saga’s world. Much like my review of the first Insidious on Slaughter Film, I’m keeping this one pretty fashionably late.

If you’re like me, however, you like to pump yourself up in anticipation of a new film’s release within genre or series before you see it. What better way to get you excited than by revisiting the prior films you loved? Let’s take a stroll backwards together and have a look at why we should all be excited for the latest installment.

Let’s be honest here: did you really think Insidious was going to morph into the next Saw or Paranormal Activity – a seemingly endless parade of ongoing sequels? I sure wasn’t expecting this. But as I look back through the second chapter of Insidious, here’s what I can tell you with at least some degree of confidence: this is a series that definitely keeps itself interesting.

(OBLIGATORY: Think of spoilers for these movies like you would if you had an allergy to peanuts. There are peanuts everywhere in this review, so don’t read unless you want to go into spoiler anaphylaxis.)

This movie came out right in that magical late summer/early fall period in 2013 when James Wan was apparently king of the horror world. Just a few months prior he’d released The Conjuring, much to the delight of Slaughter Film (read about it here or listen to the podcast here).

The plot still focuses directly on the Lambert family with this story continuing immediately after the first film ended. The film opens with a flashback scene showcasing a young Josh Lambert, his mother Lorraine, a new spiritual consultant named Carl, and the spiritual medium Elise.

Cut to Renai Lambert sitting in a police station. She’s attempting to recount her perspective on what exactly happened at the end of the first movie. To refresh your memory, this was the night her husband Josh used astral projection to travel to the mystical nether-world known as The Further to find their son Dalton.

From the cop’s perspective, however, he’s trying to make sense of Elise’s sudden and unexpected murder. Because if you remember from the very end of Insidious, a possessed Josh choked Elise to death.

Dalton had remained in a coma throughout a large portion of the first film – seemingly brain dead. But after Josh rescued him and helped return his spirit to his physical body, we were all led to believe Josh made it out as well.

Surprise – he didn’t! In fact, it seems like the grizzled old witch lady from the first movie who had been haunting Josh since he was a boy now had possession of his physical body. Surprise again! It’s not really a witch ‘lady’ per se, but a witch transvestite (?) named Parker Crane.

Parker was a bit insane during his mortal life thanks to his overbearing mother. And by overbearing, of course, I mean completely out-of-her-mind insane. He committed suicide in a hospital after trying to sever his own twig and berries. But bear with me, here – there’s a really good set of reasons that led him to this level of insanity.

The face of a truly loving mother.

As the plot of this movie continues forward, we learn the following factoids:
  • Parker’s mommy always wanted a girl, so she dressed up poor Parker that way and basically destroyed his mind/childhood/life.
  • Parker, in his own adult life, was a serial killer by the name of the Bride in Black.
  • The Bride in Black is the old woman haunting Josh throughout the first Insidious.
  • Parker’s possession of Josh was an avenue to continue his killing at the behest of his mother.
Cut to the astral projection/spiritual world known as The Further where Josh’s soul is wandering all around trying to find his way back to his body. This is where we get a glimpse into the confusing, time-ambiguous world of The Further much more directly than with the first Insidious.

As Josh’s soul wanders about in the abyss, he interacts with himself, characters and elements of the first movie, and other wandering spirits. He also interacts with Parker and his mother to better solidify why they’re the bad guys here and why Parker became the Bride in Black in the first place.

The ‘Real’ Josh making his way through The Further.

Of course, I also need to mention that Josh reunites with Elise’s soul here in a confusingly sweet moment of dramatic connection. What I love about Elise – and the entire world of The Further – is that death is irrelevant in the Insidious world. Elise proves that you can die brutally in one movie but still remain a critical character who lives on in the next.

This also holds true with the other spiritual medium Carl. When possessed Josh is unmasked in one scene, he inevitably “kills” (I think?) Carl. Carl is later found wandering about in The Further where he and Elise reunite for the first time in awhile.

As all this is going on, possessed Josh continues terrorizing Renai and the rest of the family. Tensions build as she attempts to navigate around an increasingly violent Josh. And the true violence and horror of the film are pretty much limited to these (admittedly spellbinding and horrific) scenes between Josh and Renai.

The face of Josh... er… Parker… or the Witch... either way BOO NOW YOU’RE SCARED!

In the end, it’s Dalton who travels into the astral plane, finds Josh and brings him back. They banish Parker, his overbearing mother and open up Josh’s body so his spirit can return. Dalton apparently also helps to guide Carl back to life. I thought he straight-up died earlier, but I guess I was wrong. Carl then hypnotizes both Josh and Dalton to make them forget all about astral traveling (and this entire ordeal).

This was exactly what happened to young Josh as a boy which is why he had to ‘rediscover’ his talents as an astral traveler. But as the entire Lambert family agree about, forgetting is the best way they’ll all get over this entire ordeal.

I’m sure they’ll never have to remember this again.

  • Specs & Tucker!

    Yes, even fan service nerds get their spotlight in James Wan films.

    I didn’t address these two throwaway characters in plot description above, but needless to say I was glad to see them back. Their role in this movie seems a bit more forced, but they still bring a quirky nerd-charm to the film that’s still refreshing and enjoyable.

  • Possessed Josh is Awesome

    Yes, even fan service nerds get their spotlight in James Wan films.

    All of the scariest and most enjoyable scenes in this movie come thanks to Patrick Wilson’s stellar performance as Parker-possessed Josh Lambert. Parker’s rotten soul is literally causing Josh’s body to rot from underneath him. And his performance as that’s happening is so much fun to watch.

    One of the most memorable scenes comes when possessed Josh finally gets the upper hand on Renai with a tea kettle to the back of the head. As he’s choking her to death and swearing at her, Dalton comes to the rescue with a bat to the head to stun Josh.

    Renai, Dalton and the younger son Foster (which by the way, why is he even a character?) narrowly get away in a high tension, truly terrifying scene that showcases what a James Wan horror movie is all about.

    Seriously though – this movie is worth a watch for Patrick Wilson alone. It’s over-the-top, Bruce Campbell-passionate and downright mesmerizing.

  • Insidious 2 Josh Interacting with Insidious 1

    Some of the best scenes in this film are simply Josh interacting with… Josh. Certain confusing or unexplainable actions are made much clearer in the later scenes of Josh wandering around The Further.

    This is especially true when Josh finds himself in situations that were confusing or ambiguous in the first film.

    One example that comes to mind is one of the scariest scenes from the past movie. Josh investigates loud banging at his front door. As he goes downstairs, Renai discovers a looming figure over her infant daughter’s crib. In the midst of the chaos, Josh is horrified to find the front door wide open and the alarm blaring.

    Turns out he only has himself to blame for this entire scenario. It was Josh himself who knocked his own front door open as he was trying to find his way through The Further and into his body.

    I’ll concede that some of these connections seemed very much forced or a little contrived. To be perfectly honest my first reaction was a bit of disappointment that the prior film’s scene was pretty much stripped of its “scariness.”

    However, watching the films back-to-back excuses this quite a bit for me. It adds a much more direct back-and-forth connection that makes these two films function better as a cohesive “whole.” That says a lot more for this series than most other horror serials.
  • The ‘A Little Too Convenient’ Plot Points & Characters

    The entire Parker Crane and Mother story that drives this movie forward seems just a bit too neatly packaged. This is especially true in how the film inevitably concludes. Dalton helps bring the “real” Josh and Carl (who should really just be dead) back into the living world.

    It’s nice to wrap things up into a nice little Aristotelian conclusion that makes you feel good about yourself and the world. But horror is one of the few genres where you can just say “nuts to that” and create some really twisted endings.

    The first movie played with this idea and succeeded much more admirably with the overall effect. This one seemed to sanitize things quite a bit to make the audience appeal broader.

  • Characters that Don’t Seem to Have a Place

    The other Lambert kid who literally has no reason to even be in this movie at all.

    This movie suffers a bit from the one-too-many characters problem that many sequels experience. Josh’s mom Lorraine is present but pretty much useless as a character in this movie. It’s a shame, too, because Barbara Hershey is great and her character and performance was one of the best parts about the first movie.

    As mentioned, Renai’s other son Foster is here but really has no place or significance within the role. And what about the baby? At least these family members weren’t just written off like so many characters in sitcoms.

    As I mentioned, I’m on the Specs and Tucker bandwagon. However, while I enjoyed seeing them again, their roles as Elise’s assistants don’t really make sense anymore. You know… because Elise is dead.

    They were added in for fan service, I get that. But from a story perspective, that’s just one too many unnecessary ‘bit part’ characters making the story itself murkier.

  • Where the Hell is Darth Maul?!

    Yeah, yeah so Elise gasps at the very end when she hears the Darth Maul guy (aka Lipstick-Face Demon) and his signature crackling noise. But otherwise he’s barely even an afterthought in this movie in favor of focusing on Parker Crane and his evil Mama. To me, this seemed like a bit of a cop out.

    I understand that it’s fun to keep things varied in movies like this, but don’t you think this guy would have been a little pissed off after Dalton gets away in the first movie? And wouldn’t he have been able to find Josh just wandering around idly in The Further as he’s trying to reconnect to his own body?

    There were just too many unanswered questions here… and not in the awesome, thought-provoking sort of way.

Insidious: Chapter 2 indulges us in some of the stranger and more fantastical elements the first movie only touched upon. Whereas the first film was a little confused between good old fashioned Paranormal Activity scares and Hellraiser-esque fantasy horror, this entry seems to have better met Wan’s fascination with The Further and all the related insanity behind it.

I wasn’t totally sold on how this film connects between many of the scenes we see throughout the earlier points of the story (as well as the first movie), but it’s still an interesting dynamic between past and present. That’s part of the fun of Insidious 2, though. It gives you the horror where you need it and plays around with the most interesting component of this series within The Further.

This gives us something almost prototypical in the genre. Even though some of the connections seem a little too contrived for me, I thought it was really cool to see it in action.

This film did not quite delight me as much as the first Insidious, but it’s definitely a fun enough experience if you already feel connected to the story and characters.

And I’m even more interested in what The Further will look like for Insidious: Chapter 3… the prequel.