Insidious is available on DVD and Blu-Ray today.
James Wan and Leigh Wannell, the creative team behind the original Saw, have got more in their bag of tricks than gore and rusty metal. After teaming up on a few other projects that didn’t pan out as they’d hoped (Dead Silence), they finally get another chance to make their dream movie. Courtesy of Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity fame.
The film has a strong cast, led by Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Watchmen), Rose Byrne (Sunshine, 28 Weeks Later), Lin Shaye (2001 Maniacs, Dead End, Nightmare on Elm Street franchise) and Barbara Hershey (Black Swan, The Entity).
Short plot summary:
Shortly after moving, a family discovers that dark spirits have possessed their home and that their son has inexplicably fallen into a coma. Trying to escape the haunting and save their son, they move again only to discover that it was not their house that was haunted.
Let’s just get this fact out of the way – this film is scary. Not just startling like most spookfests, but cover your eyes and peek through your fingers scary. All done with a bare minimum of blood and no gore. Wan isn’t afraid to take his time building the mood, so it isn’t just a series of set-piece scenes. We experience a slow building tension that, by the last 3rd, reaches an incredible boiling point. Wan and Whannell have said in interviews that, despite their reputation, they love supernatural tales and aren’t terribly fond of gore. This love is evident as the film pays homage to the classic haunted house flicks, but brings new life to the genre. Some of the scariest moments involve situations where the horror is offscreen. Just out of frame or described rather than seen. And while Wan does add a touch of comic relief (in the form of Whannell and Angus Sampson as arguing ghost hunters), these scenes are a welcome release valve between scares and the characters aren’t one-note jokes. In fact, Whannell and Lin Shaye together make a pretty effective combination.
Speaking of Shaye, she is amazing. The role of the kindly psychic in a film can’t avoid falling under Zelda Rubenstein’s shadow, but Shaye takes a potential cliche and makes it a layered, effective character. When Shaye steps onto the screen, she takes over. Zelda would be proud…and maybe a little bit jealous.
The Good: Did we mention the film was scary? Seriously. It is. And it’s not just the nighttime frights – the daytime scares pack just as much punch, and we know how tough those can be. The film was made for less than one million dollars, but sure as hell doesn’t look it! James Wan shows us that the most valuable asset a film can have is a director who knows what to show you and when.
The plot isn’t predictable – the trailer gives away one of the great twists but there are others. The ending of the film leaves questions unanswered, but the feeling of dread stays strong until the last second.
Although jump scares and loud punctuating stings usually ding points off a movie for us, we’re surprised to say they work in this film. These scares are never false scares; no cats jumping from closets here. The nightmare imagery is disturbing and well-presented. Almost all effects are practical rather than distracting CGI and the atmosphere is thick. The jarring scares don’t just startle, they frighten.
The music is prominently post-modern orchestral sounds. It states its intentions early in with piano smashes and tortured violins. It’s an homage to supernatural film history and not a cheap attempt to make you jump. Adding a quirky twist, the film’s composer, Joseph Bishara, appears as the film’s horrific red-faced entity!
The Bad: It can justifiably be argued that Insidious takes some plot turns into silly territory. One scene in particular toward the end stands out as a bit zany, but we generally feel the film maintains a balance. The ending sequences also include the most hokey and unconvincing effects of the film. Unsurprisingly, these are the few prominent uses of CGI.
Despite the quibbles, it is worth seeing? Hell yes.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test?
The film does involve some very strong female characters, but most of their discussions are about the the boy and his father. Does that count as a failure? It’s not talking about boys so much as demonic possession and ghosts, though, and that’s a plus.
Would you Recommend?
Jenny Dreadful: Definitely to fans of supernatural horror. Even more so for fans of classic 70’s/early 80’s paranormal frightfests (Poltergeist, The Legend of Hell House, The Exorcist, The Entity, Amityville Horror, etc…) who can appreciate the homage. Looking for scares without gore? Unless a single drop of blood with bother you, this is the movie for you. Without doing some pretty serious digging, this is the best new haunting you’re gonna find.
If you think this movie is too silly, I disagree, but respect your opinion. I just know I’ll never see Tiny Tim the same way ever again. Falsetto terror from beyond!
StayFrosty: Absolutely. Fans of the haunted house/haunted whatever movies should see this, and then see it again. As Jenny D said, this is very much in the vein of the 70s/80s spookers, but it still feels original. Even if you’re a total gore lover, I would recommend seeing this anyway just to see another side of the genre (and a really good example of the other side). So pretty much I think everyone should see it. And then keep the lights on that night.
Crowbait: The last movie that scared me like this, that left me with a dread that I carried for days was The Ring. If you can appreciate a film that is about fear more than it is about horror, you won’t go wrong with this one.