Notable Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Review: Horror is back with a vengeance, and so is James Wan for that matter. After breaking onto the scene with Saw, his two follow-up attempts were sadly disappointing, ESPECIALLY the not even bargain bin worthy Dead Silence. Well, have no fear because the team of Wan and Whannell have brought horror back into the mainstream with their haunted film Insidious. It gets under your skin, sends chills down your spine, but makes you have entirely too much fun to look away. Sure, expect your share of jump scares and the normal horror lore, but what sets Insidious apart is its successful attempt to go above and beyond. It isn’t happy just being a copy cat demon possessing film. No, Insidious takes every creative chance to spice things up and deliver moments that could have easily been horribly bland. Insidious is a brilliantly written and *GASP* ORIGINAL horror that Whannell/Wan should be very proud of, and something any respecting horror fan should not miss.
Insidious follows the Lambert family, and the horrifying occurrences that torment them. After moving into their new house, parents Josh (Wilson) and Renai (Byrne) are in the process of centering their lives. Between taking care of two boys named Dalton (Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor), and their baby sister; the couple can barely find time for themselves. But when Dalton explores the house one day and falls off a broken ladder, the family could never be ready for what was in store. After suffering some bruises and bumps, Dalton seems just fine. Until he doesn’t wake up the next morning that is. After rushing him to the hospital, doctors proclaim there is nothing medically wrong with Dalton, leaving no explanation for the coma like status he has entered. After three months of intensive care, Dalton is taken home, still in the pseudo-coma. At the same time, strange things start happening around the house. Moving objects, voices over baby monitors, and appearing handprints are just the start of the worries for the Lambert family. What incurs is a fight between malevolent demons haunting their comatose son Dalton, and the lengths Josh and Renai are willing to go to keep Dalton safe.
If you’ve seen any advertisement for Insidious, you’re sure to know it was produced by the people behind the hit phenomena Paranormal Activity. Once you’ve seen the movie, the pairing makes perfect sense based on what a heavy-handed influence Paranormal Activity itself was on the style of Insidious. The writing takes the same formulaic approach of Paranormal, starting steady and slowly building towards the inevitable climax. Certain camera shots even felt reminiscent to watching the first-person camera style Peli used on Paranormal, as Wan found it more effective to put you in the eyes of the character at times instead of angling a camera over their shoulder from a third-person perspective. Not to mention there were a few scenes that could have been straight out of Paranormal itself, aka the invisible movement of objects like a banging door. But, have no fear because Insidious is self-aware of these similarities, and delves into such strange territory you’ll forget all about the comparisons. Take the design for the Darth Maul-esque demon that was so artfully crafted, depicting the attention to creative details the movie paid attention to. It’s like Insidious got all its Paranormal-y-ness out of its system early, getting you ready to explore the new uncharted territory. One part Poltergeist, another part Paranormal Activity, but a heaping helping of its own influence embodies the film and throws us into the horrifying world of the Lamberts.
To elaborate further on what made Insidious so memorable to me, was that Wan and Whannell threw unexpected treats in here and there, making this so much more than just a horror film. First off, try to find Wan’s easter egg, hinting that the Saw franchise may not be dead after all. Secondly, the introduction of Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson) as the technical supernatural analysts offered comic relief from that point on. Whannell himself steps from behind the camera to play the nerdy Specs, acting out exactly the character he had written and wanted. There’s a fine line that can be crossed when horror and comedy mix, especially when done poorly. But the way Whannell wrote the characters of Specs and Tucker, they weren’t trying to be the center of attention or the obvious comedic characters; they were subtly funny. Whannell and Sampson didn’t take away from the main focus. They didn’t take away from the script or the actions on-screen, and the comedy was a nice and unexpected compliment to the horror happening on-screen.
The movie also succeeded at making the simple creepy, not the obvious. Any director can get cheap thrills by setting some ominous music to quick images. But Insidious was able to take things that are usually symbols of innocence or happiness, and turning them into the focal point of fear. It was amazing what the song “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” by Tiny Tim (which is a creepy enough song to begin with honestly) did for one of the scenes, proving thinking outside of the box is just as rewarding as using what usually works. It was Insidious’s ability to avoid typical horror clichés but strategically using them at the same time that made such an impact. Of course there are jump scares, it can’t be horror without jump scares. But afterwards, there wasn’t a cheap aftertaste left in your mouth due to bad execution.
It may be a little premature to call Insidious my favorite horror film of the year with the Halloween season still far away, but it left that grandiose an impression on me. If you aren’t a fan of the horror genre, this won’t rope you in. You’ll probably find it just as brain-dead and unbelievable as the rest. Insidious was made with horror fans in mind, and succeeds on so many levels for those that have suffered was lackluster horror cinema for so long. It will scare the pants off of you and have you wishing for more at the same time. I personally was stricken with a cold chill down my spine during the film’s final sequence, accompanied with a tremendous grin. In a total combine effort on the part of Wan’s direction and Whannell’s story, Insidious is a special piece of terror to really sink your teeth into. Horror fans rejoice, here is the film that we can look back to in the next coming months during the next inevitable horror drought (unless movies like Scream 4 can pull through).
Final Rating: 8.5 demonic faces seared into my brain out of 10