In what can only be described as 2013’s biggest bucket of mainstream crazy, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is also one of the most genuinely weird and entertaining movies to hit theaters in a while.
This second chapter begins minutes after the first ends, with beleaguered and bedeviled father Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) implicated in the death of medium Elise (Lin Shaye) after crossing over to the “dark place” to rescue his son from the restless spirits there. But after a quick investigation, Josh is cleared and the Lamberts are free to flee their home to live at Josh’s mother’s (Barbara Hershey) place.
Well, that’s not quite accurate: screenwriter Leigh Whannel and director James Wan decide to approach this fledgling franchise like they did “Saw,” retroactively adding backstory via a prologue that reveals Josh’s history with the supernatural may be a little more complicated than we first thought. In fact, (literally) buried secrets and repressed memories form the foundation for the sequel, which goes all out with a “Mommy Dearest”-level bad matriarch, a sadistic killer, even more ghosts, and a little bit of physical horror for Josh Lambert.
That something is stalking not only Josh, but his son Dalton soon becomes very clear, and between the rattle and clatter of the ghostly manifestations and the weirdness of Josh’s steady mental and physical deterioration, “Insidious: Chapter 2″ offers up a somewhat predictable, but still left-field mystery for the Lamberts. Layering on new mythology surrounding the supernatural in the “Insidious”-verse allows Whannel and Wan to open up the possibilities of how their sometimes vengeful, sometimes crazy spirits can manifest, giving “Chapter 2″ a real air of unpredictability. Even at its silliest–and it gets silly–your interest will remain piqued by the extreme oddity of the spiritual world the filmmakers have crafted.
If it seems like I’m saying “Chapter 2″ only works because of its weirdness, that’s not the case at all: the script is just unafraid to go off on tangents that might not otherwise fit with the kind of movie the first “Insidious” was. So we get more jump scares alongside creaky, abandoned house horror, and Ed Gein-style mania, and somehow, it all (mostly) comes together, even if some of the performances get increasingly unhinged. The thematic core of the film: family, how it protects us and destroys us, is threaded throughout and somehow keeps the whole thing from rattling apart.
The film should also be lauded for the simple yet effective way that it’s mostly driven by its female leads including Rose Byrne’s Renai and Hershey’s Lorraine–two mothers who would do anything to protect their sons. In fact, “Chapter 2″ is full of meaty roles for its female leads, with Shaye and actress Danielle Bisutti’s characters driving large parts of the plot in spite of being offscreen for most of the film’s running time.
By its final act, “Insidious: Chapter 2″ has opened up a whole realm of possible stories set in this universe (while teasing an odd, completely random new threat). And while the film could be accused of sacrificing coherence for world-building, when that world is as delightfully strange and crazy as this one, you kind of want to give it a pass.
“Insidious: Chapter 2″ will be in theaters September 13.