Insidious is the new film from director James Wan who is most famous as a co creator of the Saw franchise. Insidious is being billed as the scariest film since Poltergeist. I’m not willing to go so far as agree with that statement but Insidious is an effective horror movie.
Insidious starts of with a typical family, Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson star as the parents of two young boys. After an injury, the oldest child slips into a coma. Doctors can find no medical reason for the coma, and he fails to respond to any treatment.
Meanwhile strange occurrences start to happen in the family home. Noises and strange shadows evolve into a full out haunting. As the stress mounts from the haunting and the coma, the family decide to move to escape the specters.
Unfortunately the occurrences follow them and continue to grow in strength. The family consults a medium, played by Lyn Shaye, who informs them it isn’t the house but their child that is haunted. The situation quickly grow violent as the spirits resist being banished. This leaves the father to take drastic steps to save his son and his family.
The first half of Insidious really works. The scares are all genuine and I jumped several times. J Larose, from Saw III was especially frightening as one of the spirits haunting the family. I would have never considered Tiptoe Through the Tulips especially scary, but wan finds a way to make it work when mixing it with a child ghost.
The most horrifying revenant however is the “demon.” Early on he is only vaguely seen and this adds to the sense of dread. In fact one of the only miscues, in my opinion, was bringing the creature fully into the light. Half seen he is truly terrifying. Fully seen, all I could think of was he looked like a cross between Freddy Krueger and The Creeper on his way to Burning Man.
Luckily most of the end game scares come form the most sinister ghost of all the “old lady.” if your blood hasn’t already turned cold in Insidious it will when she makes her appearance. Each appearance.
The film does veer heavily into the realm of Poltergeist. Wilson must venture into the astral plane to try and rescue his son. I wasn’t too crazy about this idea at first as it seems to close to Poltergeist. While there were a few creepy moments, like the frozen family, this is the weakest part of the film.
A lot of that is due to the demon making a full appearance. While the viewers might have felt cheated to never see him full on, I think he would have been much more effective staying in the shadows. The end is saved by the old lady, and a twist that even though I knew was coming, was pulled off exceptionally. Any other ending would have felt wrong.
Insidious is the best full on, supernatural horror film I have seen in a while. There is just enough humor to give you a small rest from the scares. Most of the laughs come from the “ghost hunters.” Wan is able to draw the viewer in, so that the laughs never seem forced. You feel like the family on screen is laughing too, and when you faceplam, you have to believe that Wilson and Byrne were too.
The requisite séance is handled in an surreal, way with the addition of the gas mask for the medium. It looks silly at first, but it works, adding a dynamic that normally isn’t there. Once again I felt like I was in the same boat as the family. We struggle to hear whats going on just as they do.
The film is also helped by the always wonderful Barbara Hershey. Fresh off a killer performance in Black Swan, she plays Wilsons mother in the film. I like the fact that she was supportive of Byrne, against the grain of most haunt films where the mother in law is an adversary. She acts as a comforter and a device to drive the film forward by introducing Shaye’s character.
All of the characterizations seem more than the usual cookie cutter horror stereotypes. Wilson is a supportive husband, going so far as to pick up and move homes for his wife. There are tensions within the family, as could be expected when a child is comatose, but they are played out realistically. Kudos all around to the acting, and the writing of the characters.
One last note, Insidious has one of the most effective and scary title screens I can remember. The mixture of sudden sound and the flashing title will illicit a jump if you aren’t expecting it.
Insidious is still in theaters so run out and see it, before it sees you