James Wan is one of the most profitable filmmakers at work in Hollywood today. Back in 2004, the then 28-year old Malaysian fresh out of film school in Australia made quite a splash with his horror cheapie ’Saw,’ and for better or worse introduced us to the horror subgenre known as "torture porn." With a budget of only $1.2 million, ’Saw’ went on to gross $107 million worldwide. Then, after a couple of less successful efforts, Wan did it again in 2011 with his slow-burning but eerie ‘Insidious.’ At a mere $1.5 million, ‘Insidious’ made $97 million globally, cementing Wan’s place as a gifted ‘Master of Horror.’ Eschewing the blood-and-gore of torture porn and relying instead on a heady mix of gothic atmosphere, spellbinding suspense and good old-fashioned storytelling about a family haunted by sinister supernatural forces, ‘Insidious’ was a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that’s gone a bit stale and unimaginative of late. Not surprisingly, the movie’s ending pointed to a sequel, with the father (spoiler ahead) bringing his son back from the netherworld but leaving us with the question: “Did dad come back a different person?” Insidious minds want to know.
‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ answered this question and more, as the Lamberts find themselves still haunted by poltergeists. At the beginning of 'Insidious: Chapter 2,' we discover that ’Insidious’ isn’t the first time ghosts and evil spirits visited some of its characters. Allow me to go off topic briefly here to praise the casting director, because the young actresses picked to portray earlier versions of Barbara Hershey's Lorraine (Lambert) and Lin Shaye’s Elise (Rainier) are dead-on lookalikes, especially the young Elise. Once again, there are comic moments from the nerdy 'ghostbuster' team of Specs (screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), such as when they had their own version of Rock-Paper-Scissors called ‘Hunter-Ninja-Bear.’ Ha, get it?
Alas, ’Insidious: Chapter 2’ suffered the same curse that plagued almost every sequel; that is, it has to be even better than the original to be considered a critical success. If it’s just more of the same, why bother with a sequel at all? But I must admit that I enjoyed ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ more than the original because it is more briskly paced and the threads of its complex storyline, past and present, all tied together neatly in the end. Perhaps most of all, what makes 'Insidious: Chapter 2' so gripping and suspenseful is that through two movies, we’ve grown to care about the Lamberts as well as the paranormal investigators who risk everything (including their lives) to help them, even if daddy goes a bit 'Jack Nicholson' from ’The Shining' near the end.