After rescuing his son, Dalton, from the demon-infested netherworld, The Further, Josh Lambert (Wilson) brings something back with him; something that kills psychic Elise (Shaye) and is threatening to burst out…
James Wan has had one heck of a year. The other day, he began filming on Fast & Furious 7, his first foray into the world of blockbusters, while earlier this summer he delivered one of the best traditional horror films for years with The Conjuring. And now, without pausing for breath, here he comes with a sequel to Insidious, his surprise smash from 2011.
That movie copped flak in certain quarters for its late shift from meticulously constructed haunted house thriller to batshitcrazyville, with psychic powers and multiple dimensions (in this case, the murky netherworld of The Further). But that was rather missing the point – not only were Wan and his long-time screenwriting cohort Leigh Whannell paying homage to Poltergeist, they were throwing Poltergeist II: The Other Side into the mix. And the introduction of the anything-goes anarchy of The Further proves something of a masterstroke here, pushing the story in a series of unexpected directions, messing with timelines and replaying earlier scenes (from both films) from different angles.
Of course, all the clever-clever plotting in the world doesn’t mean a damn thing if a horror movie doesn’t scare, and thankfully Chapter 2 delivers on that front. It’s so easy to get jump scares wrong, to make them seem rote and redundant, but Wan is a master of timing and framing, and he’s one of the new breed of horror directors (along with the likes of Ti West and Adam Wingard) who are expert at generating a mood of dread. The cliffhanger ending of the first movie helps here – we know, ahead of the rest of the Lamberts, that Josh is possessed by something and Wan wrings tension aplenty out of that ticking timebomb as Patrick Wilson fights hard not to go full Shining, while Rose Byrne’s Renai strongly suspects that just because it looks like a husband, walks like a husband and talks like a husband, doesn’t mean it is a husband.
Elsewhere, there are excellent set-pieces in the eldritch lair of a long-dead killer, his victims lovingly and spookily arranged in rows; an excruciating, nicely-written and played confrontation between Josh (or something that looks like Josh) and a medium (the likeable Steve Coulter, largely filling in for Lin Shaye’s Elise); and, again, a late-film foray into The Further that throws up the odd arresting image and, in just one shot, an unforgettable character who comes on like the bastard son of a thousand David Lynch maniacs.
But there’s also a sense of a film – and filmmakers – not taking the whole ridiculous thing too seriously; many of the strongest scares come with an inbuilt tension release valve, while the film is often intentionally funny (Whannell and Angus Sampson, as the returning psychic investigators Specs and Tucker, take care of most of that stuff).
There are strong indications by the end that there’s room for a Chapter 3 that would take the story in a different direction. Maybe, when Wan is finished throwing bits of tin around, he can be tempted back. Until then, though, with this and The Conjuring in the same year, that’s one hell of a mic drop.
With Wan confidently orchestrating jump scares and bonkers plot twists, this is hugely hokey horror fun that's the match of the original. Bring all the fingers you can - you'll need them to peek through.