Horror film sequels usually make me cringe. Typically, they just aren't that good, and very rarely are they as effective as their predecessors. Insidious: Chapter 2 breaks that mold by delivering a genuinely suspenseful experience that builds on the story of the first film in imaginative and unexpected ways.
Insidious 2 begins right where Insidious ended. The Lambert family has just rescued their oldest son, Dalton, from the clutches of demonic forces trying to possess his body. Dalton's father Josh heroically traveled into the spirit world (the "further") to bring him back but was unable to return to his own body. It had already been inhabited by an old and evil spirit that had stalked Josh since his childhood. When paranormal psychic Elise realizes this has happened, possessed Josh strangles her to death. Insidious 2 follows the Lambert family's continued story. Josh's wife Renai realizes that there is something different about her husband. When her and the children start seeing phantoms walking around their house, she realizes that something must be done. This time, she must do it without the help of Josh or Elise.
One of the reasons why Insidious 2 works is because it feels like it was written at the same time as the original film. Looking at this film and Insidious as one movie, you can see the overall arc and how everything fits together so precisely. Those who have not seen the first film really need not waste their time here as it is mandatory viewing to truly understand all of the moving parts of Insidious 2's story.
Writer/Director James Wan is one of the main driving forces behind Insidious 2's success. His skill in the horror and suspense genres has grown with each passing film. This year, he managed to churn out two very successful entries with this film and The Conjuring, another fantastic ghost story. Between these two films, the latter is superior but Insidious 2 has the success of the first film and the familiarity of the characters working for it.
Wan understands the mechanics of scaring an audience member. He understands the clichés of the genre and finds new ways to make them seem fresh. He loves these characters and does a great job of building on their personalities in this film. He understands how to build the story to a great climax that is unexpected and exciting. It will be interesting to see how he handles Fast and Furious 7, which will be the first time he has been outside of the genres he is helping to define for this generation.
Nothing is perfect and with Insidious 2 there are a couple criticisms worth mentioning. The writers' explanation of the death of Elise from the first film is rather far-fetched and will most certainly garner some eye rolls from audience members. Also, while overall the film successfully builds upon the idea of "the further"; there are times when it just seems silly and really not very creepy at all.
But these are minor flaws in an otherwise great piece of entertainment. Those of you who can endure the 4+ hours it takes to get through Insidious and Insidious 2 will be rewarded with one of the better one-two punches in the horror genre that has come along in quite some time. Let's just hope they don't ruin it with Insidious 3!!