Newest Review: ... suggests that they seek spiritual help after a visit from the local Priest fails to quell the general spookiness and malaise g... more
Member Name: goldenbat666
Advantages: Lots of good, efficient, confident scares with fine performances
Disadvantages: A little too far-fetched with some ridiculous plotting
Leave it to James Wan, the man behind "Saw" who kick-started the whole franchise, to make another low-budget thrilling horror experience. This time there is very little gore, no limbs being hacked off, no scary man in a freaky mask telling the victims that he wants to "play a game." No, the villain here is far sneakier and sinister than that (hence the title). Plus with "Insidious," Wan ventures out into the paranormal, as seems to be a popular crowd pleaser when it comes to the horror genre these days. Even the opening score, loaded with string instruments plucking and bowing away, is similar to those of vintage horror films that scare us even to this day. "Insidious" marks a fine return of horror to its original roots, and shows that Wan is more than capable of creating and maintaining an effectively creepy tone.
Josh (Patrick Stewart) and Renai (Rose Byrne) are a married couple with three young children who have had the immense good fortune of moving into a nice spacious house. Looking through a family album one day, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), the couple's eldest, notices that there are hardly any childhood pictures of his dad. "I wish I could but I don't think we have any" answers Renai - there is obviously something fishy going on here. One day the ever-so curious Dalton wanders around the house, and whilst drawn by a mysterious force, climbs up into the attic, and falls due to a broken ladder. He seems fine as Josh and Renai rush to his aid, but the next day he ends up in a coma with no sign as to if he will ever recover. Doctors cannot explain what is wrong with him, and no scientific explanation can be given for his condition.
But this is when strange supernatural events start occurring around the house. Foster (Andrew Astor), the middle child, claims he sees Dalton walking around at night. Renai can hear disturbing sounds through her baby monitor. Things go bang at night and family is terrorised by visions of scary spirits who show that even a smile can be petrifying and deadly. Quite sensibly, the couple conclude that it's their house that is haunted. Josh, even though he remains rather reserved and skeptical, decides to move, so his family can settle in better and get on with their lives. But this is all in vain - for the horrific events only become more active than ever, and Renai has to live in constant fear of running into these seemingly random spirits. In comes a pastor who ends up being a useless waste of time. However Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), has along with some hidden family secrets, a method of her own she would like to try out. Her close friend Elise (Lin Shaye), an experienced medium with eyes of perception like no other, enters the house, and with some probing around, is sure that it's Dalton that's haunted, not the house.
It's a bizarre theory, with Wan throwing together some fairly far-fetched concepts of astro-projection and demonic possession to produce a reasonable explanation. It may sound a tad silly, but what did you really expect from a supernatural horror anyway? Adding a slightly more human touch to the otherwise unrealistic notion, we are given these answers in a brief sum-up scene, delivered by Shaye with convincingly disturbed assurance of her character. Now that we know the cause, it's time to find a treatment option. Out comes a World War II mask (don't ask) that helps Elise contact the spiritual world where Dalton is supposedly "lost," and saving this young boy from evil demons who wish to possess his body is the main objective.
No matter how many preposterous developments the film may hurl at you (even the main villain looks like Star Wars' Darth Maul's long lost twin brother but with slightly worse graphics and make-up), the scares and characters remain effective, which is the entire point of a horror film. It certainly gets its job done, and quite refreshingly, without any excess blood. The number of characters remains restricted throughout, and Wan is a master when it comes to building tension. Most of the time, we know there is something lurking in the shadow. We know there must be something behind Josh or Renai as they worryingly walk around their house. It scares us more to think about the different possibilities of what hostile thing could be appearing out of nowhere. And with a sharp, piercing screeching of his orchestra, Wan delivers some finely crafted chilling scenes.
With fine performances from rather well-known faces, the family dynamic is easy to settle into. Byrne can show fear exceptionally well, with her wide-eyed expression and scream appearing shockingly natural. Stewart, playing the well-known part of "doubtful male" is never annoying, but a fully committed family man providing as much support as he knows how. The most memorable are however the two matriarchal supporting players, Hershey and Shaye, whose crucial roles bring in even more terror and intensity. Wan also has time for some comedy too, believe it or not. The two rather goofy co-workers of Elise, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), have a love-hate, bromance competition even in the midst of demonic invasion. They are the classic nerdy geeks with fancy, often ridiculous sci-fi equipment trying to track down everything that is haunting Dalton. They provide a brief but much-needed break from all the jump scares, all the while not wasting time with trivial, needless scenes.
Ending on an ambiguous note, there could well be a sequel, depending on how financially successful the film turns out to be. It's doing well in the States, and because of its small budget ($1.5 million), the returns have been impressive enough. But it would be neater and at its peak just on its own. If the ideas here are stretched out even more with unnecessary follow-ups, with more absurd twists, that would be pushing it too far. The family element was played nicely, with hidden underlying connections adding plenty of fun for its running time. Whether you can be fully on board with everything the film presents is obviously entirely up to you, but "Insidious" is so much more than what can be expected. Every movement of its characters and every single note of the highly effective music crawl under your skin, waiting to erupt at the last minute for a loud, energetic climax. It's certainly not for everyone, but horror fans will be more than satisfied by this surprisingly entertaining offering.
Summary: Short, but effective and genuinely scary - well worth your time