In many ways, Chapter 2 is the most confounding film in the Insidious cycle – a contorted, expository and frequently incoherent sequel-prequel that seems to realise that the logical next step in the franchise is a prequel but can’t quite bring itself to let go of the original cast either. The compromise is to begin in the seconds after Insidious ended, and avoid moving beyond the ambit of the original film whenever possible, with the exception of a brief prologue set in the 1980s, which is the closest Chapter 2 comes to traditional horror. Apart from that, we’re diffused in a dank, dour vacuum as the events of the original film settle and subside, meaning that the sequel seems to have the life sucked out of it before it even begins. Most of the characters spend most of the film in an inchoate wandering, while the domestic thresholds of the original, already somewhat provisional and precarious, dissolve even further around them, starting with the vast pan across darkness to Rose Byrne’s Renai Lambert recounting the concluding events of the original film to a police officer charged with the case.
Beyond that the narrative of Chapter 2 is remarkably difficult to follow, let alone summarise, and ultimately gives way to the primal preoccupation of Insidious itself: the relationship between the Lambert family, their house and the “Further,” an amorphous zone that they access through astral projection. In the original film, the Further turned the house into a kind of Moebius strip, invading from both within and without and perpetually displacing the distinctions between interior and exterior. Here, that becomes a temporal Moebius strip, as Chapter 2 continually interfaces with Insidious, revisiting and revising its events so obsessively that it finally feels like an emanation of the first film, or a potentiality already contained within the first film, or even an ongoing symptom of the first film, rather than a direct sequel to it. Of course, this brings Chapter 2 closer to the original, but it also distances it, since this very convergence suggests that the sequel is unable to fully process or differentiate itself from the original. As a result, Chapter 2 is thoroughly collapsed into and alienated from Insidious, like the fourth or fifth film in a franchise, when the momentum has really slackened – and in a way, that’s what the film is, since the next two releases were both prequels, meaning that Chapter 2 currently stands as the fourth film in the cycle in terms of the narrative chronology.
Along the way, Chapter 2 takes the inside-outside convolutions of Insidious to an even more surreal level. There’s a complete breakdown of spatial thresholds that makes it almost impossible to distinguish between houses, or between discrete spaces in houses, and very little reference to the Further as a specific zone anymore. Instead, the Further just bleeds into every part of the film as a principle of spatial chaos, producing a downtempo exhaustion paired with incessant and grating threshold-horror; constant jump scares at doors, windows and corners that seem less about generating fear than insisting, desperately, that these thresholds still ramify. At times, this reminded me of Lars von Trier’s two films that set on sound stages, since the spaces here are closer to blank sets, much as the actors often seem to be performing improv horror, reacting as much to the chaos of film as to narrative events.
By the end, Chapter 2 has effectively displaced the original, and started to become porous with other types of horror – slasher, found footage, Aussie grindhouse – as the Further works to denature the film’s own boundaries along with those of the Lamberts’ house. Narrative, characterisation and even atmosphere are subsumed into this insatiable displacement, which works quite effectively to suggest the trauma that remains unprocessed from the original, partly because it consumes so much of the original in doing so. In its sheer strangeness, in both its radical continuity with Indisious and its studied alienation from it, Chapter 2 is a robust watch, a full stop on the franchise that forced the next two films to resort to prequels. The result was that an entire decade had to elapse before the franchise could rally itself into a genuine third chapter, in the form of Insidious: Fear the Dark, due to be released mid-2023.