Few filmmakers today, if any honestly, have the “ability” to release more than one film in a calendar year, and even fewer are truly able to release more than one great film in a calendar 12 months. Then again, director James Wan is not most filmmakers.
With a borderline brilliant supernatural horror gem still in some theaters in the form of The Conjuring, Wan hit theaters for a second time this year with a sequel to what may be his best film, Insidious. Simply titled Insidious Chapter 2, this film not only continues Wan’s current hot streak of superb, top notch supernatural thrillers, but proves that while he may be best known as the man behind the start of the Saw franchise, he is truly, arguably, today’s greatest horror auteur.
Ostensibly picking up right after the ending of the first feature, this hotly anticipated genre sequel follows the ever haunted Lambert family, but this time finding them in a different predicament. After returning from the spirit world following the events of the first film, husband and father of three Josh doesn’t quite seem like his old self, causing his significant other Renai to wonder if it is actually Josh that returned to her. When things slowly start to really unravel, we become privy not only to a family once again under attack, but an entity that is very much literally hell bent on taking the lives of every member of this family. Yet again finding itself in the realm of the distinctly supernatural, Wan lets things fly once again into narrative left field, and makes what may be one of his most narratively histrionic and genuinely thrilling pieces of work to date.
Wan is with this, and really has been since the first film, the star of his new picture. While his pictures seem to be getting exponentially more narratively “campy,” or at least bombastic and over the top, they seem to be getting more thrillingly executed. This film doesn’t seem to have that inherent vitality or breathless originality that the first Insidious did, but Wan’s direction is nevertheless great. Using a myriad of different aesthetic choices (be it the use of a zoom following a dramatic moment or the jarringly esoteric use of shaky hand held camera work during action bits), the film never feels to be spinning its wheels like many a sequel does in this day and age, and the gorgeous photography really adds a great deal of visual depth to the picture. It’s an extremely crisp horror film, having no interest in filling the frame with a gritty or grimy world like, say, a Rob Zombie does, instead playing into the film’s inherent outlandishness, really looking in many ways like a melodrama shadowed by an ever present cloud of impending doom. Even down to the film’s opening sequence, this is as seemingly distilled a picture as Wan has ever made, presumably acting as an aesthetic codex for those looking to see just what type of filmmaker Wan truly is.
And thankfully he’s as great a filmmaker as he truly is, because he’s working in an odd world for an actor to live in. Led by the likes of a returning Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey, the film has a hell of a cast to mine from, but doesn’t get a lot. Byrne and Hershey do their best with the material, but with such a disconnect coming in the form of a final act that really launches the viewer into left field, its hard to find a real emotional entry point into the film. Luckily, the film has a really superb sense of humor (and I’m not necessarily just speaking to the pair of Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson returning in top form) that, particularly in the final act, things aren’t self important, finding everyone involved sort of knowing that what they’re making is a little bombastic.
Honestly, the final act is a perfect example of this film at its very best, and its worst. Yes, Wan’s new film finishes on a handful of notes that turn the film into a densely packed feature that almost seems, to a fault, brimming with real, palpable drama, but thanks to Wan’s breathtaking handle of tone, atmosphere and mood, the film not only becomes a real wonder of supernatural surrealism, but a nightmare inducing ghost picture. With a great score from Joseph Bishara, the film, and Wan, mix humor with real familial drama and a sense of terror that builds with such a beautiful pace that, with the reveal of a set piece involving a murderer’s victims, becomes a film that once again proves that James Wan is not only a great horror director, but one of today’s most interesting filmmakers. And to think, we’ll see him in just a handful of months, this time, in the Fast And Furious franchise. Be still, my beating heart.