Google defines “insidious” as: “Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects”. I can’t think of a better way to summarize this movie. Beyond that it was “the scariest movie to come out in years,” I had no real knowledge of what the film was about or what was going to happen in the next two hours. Before popping the Blu-Ray into the player, I decided to read up a little on the story, at least the back-of-the-package Netflix version of the story. Here’s the gist of it: Young couple with two kids and a baby move into a new house. When their oldest son randomly falls into a coma, weird stuff starts happening. They think the house is haunted so they move out. Once they settle in to their new house, weird stuff starts happening again. Cue extreme measures, i.e. ghost hunters, psychics, gas masks and more.
I have to first credit James Wan for doing an amazing job staging this thing. Him and writer Leigh Whannell performed, as their opening act, the tour de force that was “Saw”, to much critical acclaim. Wan then followed up with “Dead Silence”, the surprisingly enjoyable flick about the ventriloquist’s dummy. “Silence” was amazing from a directorial stand point. The action was sharp, the story progressed in a quick yet easy to understand fashion, and we got numerous genuinely creepy scenes (read: not jumpy). The film’s downside, unfortunately, was its story. Wan conveyed it beautifully, but it wasn’t exactly something we could all get behind. “Insidious” is a lot like “Dead Silence”. It was very highly billed (“Scariest movie in years!”), and is an incredibly creepy show. Suffice it to say, I did not have a fun time walking down to my room last night. However, as the story progressed, I felt myself losing interest. Wan kept the scares coming, but as the plot line unraveled to the point of clarity, I felt like I was watching a fantasy movie. It definitely developed a “Peter Pan”-ish vibe, which is not a bad way to go in my book, it just didn’t work in the environment “Insidious” had built over the last hour and ten minutes.
I mentioned in my review of “Devil” that the current generation of PG-13 rated movies lacked the cojones of their elder brethren. While this is usually true, “Insidious” proceeded to take that comment and shove it down my horror mongering throat. This thing could scare the pants off any horror purist, plain and simple. From the very opening credits, where ghosts and demons could be seen in the backgrounds of family pictures, to the countless creepy spirits and people creeping around corners, “Insidious” delivered. There is one particular scare that involves a ghosts sensing camera that you can see coming from a mile away, but even that is rewarding. My favorite bit is at the beginning of the second act, and involves a downright creepy version of “Tiptoe through the Tulips”. I would sincerely suggest watching the sides of the frame for the full effect.
The acting in “Insidious” was very solid. No one’s going to win an Oscar, but they are compelling and believable. Patrick Wilson first comes across as the workaholic dad, but due to the extreme circumstances occurring in the film turns out to be a great, compassionate guy. Rose Byrne plays the mom great, bringing an amount of emotion to the role that is unfortunately missing in a lot of films. The kids acted like kids, but you can’t fault them for that. Writer Leigh Whannell makes a friendly cameo as ghost hunter “Specs”, and while I found it a fairly lackluster subplot, other reviewers seem to think his part was Satan’s gift to cinema. Lin Shaye is the love-to-hate psychic, but she makes the part shine. While I am not a fan of psychics, real or in movies, even I was sympathetic to her character.
The bad guys in this film are amazing for the first hour and a half. I couldn’t get enough of the creepy ways you would see fleeting images of ghosts running across the screen or coming near people. One particular scene (just type “Insidious” into google images and you’ll see what I mean) made my heart try the hardest I can remember to jump out of my chest. Because of (or contributing to, I’m not really sure) the PG-13 rating, we see hardly any gore at all. I’m thoroughly impressed by this visual choice. It seems like a lot of people nowadays associate horror with gore. Wan’s most recent ventures into the genre, the aforementioned “Dead Silence” and our very own “Insidious”, have not only worked to dissociate that particular connection, but also prove the good camera work, sets and story build up can lead to very scary results.
I strongly feel that Insidious was one of the better true horror films of the last few years. It drew me in, built me up, and along the way scared me more times than I can remember. The acting kept us concerned and the use of anti horror clichés kept it unique. The story unfortunately falters toward the end, as does some of its visual appeal. I would liken it to if a stripper looked great with clothes on, then when she gets down to business looks strangely like Darth Maul. Tease me, James! Don’t go full frontal, I don’t want to see that. Give me just a taste, I’ll fill in the rest. “Insidious” was as close to perfect as I’ve seen in a while. It was almost there, failing to totally capture me in a few key areas, but generally a good film. Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely recommend this. While I’m not sold on the Wan/Whannell combo, I’d let the former helm my story any day. Do yourself a favor and watch “Insidious”, preferably by yourself with the lights out. But first make sure there are no windows, pictures or mirrors on the way from the living room to bed. You’ll thank me later.