Anyone who's been consistently reading Film Deviant would notice how completely starving for horror I've been in 2011. Three months deep and finally my hunger has been satisfied. James Wan has crafted a truly scary film in the form of Insidious...his first horror film since 2007's painfully mediocre film, Dead Silence. You should know Wan as the original director of Saw. He's mostly a talented director and it's not until Insidious that you finally watch him spread his wings as a film maker.
The premise is actually a little different than the usual haunted house fair. It starts off rather contrived with the scares arriving from a jarring soundtrack queue. But, once the atmosphere is in place...suggestive scares become the normal pace here. It's so refreshing after watching The Rite earlier this year. That film was full of atmosphere...but ultimately no real threat. This one's the real deal. It'll have you exhausted in fear...for most of its running time.
Warning...there may be some spoilers ahead...
Warning...there may be some spoilers ahead...
I liked the opening credits in Insidious as it gave a nod to the haunted house genre and sort of gave you a small hint of things to come....especially with the young boy sleeping in his room and the glimpse of the "old woman". The film opens innocently enough as a young family is in the middle of unpacking after moving into their new home. A rather large space full of dark corners and creaking doors. I liked the little details in the family...mother and son matching jammies, the father with his gray hair and old age paranoia, young Dalton playing with his shark. The tone is familiar and Wan does a fine job of crafting people and circumstances you know. Of course, this wouldn't fair too well with lesser actors...so, thankfully we have Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Hard Candy) playing Josh, the father coming to grips with his own fears, in an intuitive manner. Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later, Sunshine) does a fine job playing Renai, the mother who doesn't know what to do when the fit starts to hit the fucking shan. All the child actors are fine for what they're doing. Even veteran actors Barbara Hershey (The Entity) and Lin Shaye (Kingpin) show up to lend their acting prowess. It's nice to see great actors in a film like this. It gives a certain credit in a premise where you have to expend a certain degree of believability.
Speaking of the premise...Insidious does something "further" with the supernatural set up. Instead of the usual ghost haunting a house and making things miserable in a PG-13 rated film. The film goes much deeper and creates its own set of rules. I really liked that about Insidious. In a world full of remakes and reboots, I appreciate James Wan creating something original and fresh. Instead of the haunted house thing...we are treated to young Dalton (played with whimsical innocence by Ty Simpkins) who has a unique talent of drifting out of his body in his sleep to explore other places in his dreams. Well...he drifts a bit too far into a place called "the Further" where only the dead inhabit. Once within the grip of the demons of "the Further", Dalton slips into a 3 month coma that no doctor can explain. This leaves the family in complete desperation and chaos. All the while, mysterious things happen that creep you the fuck out. There's a scene where Renai runs off to her child's room only to come into contact with a ghostly face. The scene is scary as fuck. And yet...it's your traditional jump scare scene...executed in an effective manner here. The creepy atmosphere is what really counts here...it keeps you scared and alert for most of the film. It's what films like A Haunting in Connecticut and The Rite should have been.
There's even a father and son story that ties everything together in the film. At times this interesting plot device almost derails the entire Insidious train, but for the most part it kept things unique and entertaining and I really connected with this part of the film.
The only real issues I had with the film were it's lack of threatening doom. Because we're ultimately watching a PG-13 film we never really get the feeling that anything truly evil is going to happen. At one point the malevolent demon of the film is seen sharpening his talons to the tune of some old time song. I felt it to be a little silly and not very threatening. Now if said demon was sharpening his talons on a baby's skull while bathing in demon blood....I think I might've been a little more inclined to take it's malevolent intentions a little more seriously. Another issue I had was the gratuitous use of shout outs. I read somewhere that Wan is a huge Poltergeist and Shining fan. Well...he certainly throws some nods to those bigger films here...which is fine...but, after creating your own universe, you don't wanna throw too many shout outs to other films...it becomes a little distracting. There's a "scare" involving evil twin girls as well as a gag involving raw meat when one of the "geek squad ghost hunters" hurts his head. Which brings me to another gripe. The comic relief. Sometimes it got too campy when teetering the line of horror and comedy here. It almost took me out of the film. There's a scene where Renai sees a young child dancing in her living room that should have been creepier than it played out. The audience I watched the film with managed to laugh at this scene.
"The Further" got a little lame, as well. I was expecting something much more mysterious and complex. Instead we were treated to odd ghostly figures with family issues and dark smoky "haunted house" areas. Never mind the ghost bouncer that guards the red door. I just wish that given the unique plot developments we got in this supernatural horror premise the film makers took "the Further" to a more chilling level.
However, all of my critiques are mostly technical issues. The film is really well made and I do appreciate the originality more than anything. It really is the best thing James Wan has directed in a while and I am eager to see what he does next. Hopefully not a sequel to Insidious...as you would think from the ending.
8.5 out of 10
Recommendation: Definitely worth the price of a theater ticket.
Thanks for reading,