Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Review first published by movieScope

“It’s still happening,” declares Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) near the beginning of Insidious: Chapter 2. “I heard the piano playing downstairs by itself, and I found Callie on the floor.”

“I just want to move on,” replies her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson), with a resigned sigh.

This exchange demonstrates the two-way dynamic that affects most sequels: the need to repeat or continue whatever elements gave the original its appealing identity, coupled with a conflicting desire to break out and do something new. The Lamberts may, since we last saw them, have literally ‘moved’ to new accommodation while the police still try to work out who strangled medium Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to death in their last house; yet we are also aware that moving and moving on need not be the same thing. For, in a clear case of one step forward, two steps back, the Lamberts’ ‘new’ abode is in fact the old house in which Josh grew up as a boy with his mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). Indeed, the film opens with a key scene from Josh’s childhood that suggests both Josh and the house might remain desirable properties to departed spirits h(a)unting for a new home – and we already know from the way that the last film ended (conveniently recapped here) that Josh is bringing an uninvited guest with him anyway.

Insidious: Chapter 2 certainly goes back over familiar territory – but at the same time it goes back to the future too, revisiting favourite scenes from the original only to turn them inside out, transcending the norms of chronology and geography, and even heading further into the Further – a timeless limbo-like space where the unrestful deceased (much like the filmmakers) plot their returns. While starting out with well-trodden haunted house material, it is not long before the film has shifted into multiple narrative strands unfolding in parallel universes and paradoxical timeframes, with the dead still intent on harming, but in some cases this time around also helping, the living.

The savvy horror pastiche that made the original such a nodding-and-winking feast for genre fans is still very much in place (with a cunningly reverse-engineered Psycho as the intertext that most prominently haunts the film), and all the principal characters from the first film (even the now dead ones) return to do their stuff. If perhaps not as frightening as the original, Insidious: Chapter 2 certainly amps up the knowing hokiness (which was always at least a ghostly presence in the first film), while proving far bolder and more ingenious than your average sequel.

Anton Bitel