- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © FilmDistrict
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ames Wan and Leigh Whannell may be responsible for jumpstarting the most successful horror franchise of the last decade, but the duo has failed to recreate that level of success in anything they’ve made since then. But with the release of “Insidious,” it looks like they’ve finally cracked that nut, because the film is a creepy and atmospheric supernatural horror tale that plays a lot like a modern day “Poltergeist” with a decidedly retro aesthetic. Though the film relies a little too often on cheap jump scares and loud musical cues to terrorize the audience, “Insidious” is a legitimately scary movie that will not only reinvigorate Wan and Whannell’s careers, but the kind of traditional horror films that “Saw” made redundant as well.
Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have just moved their family into a new house when their eldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), bumps his head while exploring the attic and slips into a coma. The doctors can't explain what’s wrong with him, so they move Dalton back home to be cared for by his mother. When Renai starts hearing strange noises and seeing frightening visions of ghosts lurking around the house, however, she becomes convinced that the place is haunted. But after the family moves once again only for the angry spirits to remerge even stronger than before, Renai begs Josh to call in a specialist to investigate – a trio of ghost hunters that informs the couple it isn’t their house that’s haunted, but their son.
As someone who tries to avoid horror movies whenever possible, it’s difficult to gauge how “Insidious” will play to diehard fans. Though it doesn’t really revolutionize the genre like “Saw” did, it has so many genuine moments of terror that cowards like myself will be on the verge of a panic attack throughout. It’s been a while since a movie has scared me as much as this, and it will likely cause nightmares for others. The film does lose some of its bite in the final act when one of the characters enters an otherworld called the Further that looks like a twisted version of Disney's Haunted Mansion ride, but by that point, Wan practically has you eating out of his hand; the scares are that effective.
He also makes some very daring stylistic choices – from the grainy film texture to the intrusive score – that evokes the horror films of the 70s and 80s. But while the movie looks great (especially considering it was made on a shoestring budget), it's lacking in a strong central performance from Byrne or Wilson. In fact, they both seem to be sleep walking through their roles compared to the lively performances of the film's supporting cast, including character actor Lin Shaye as the paranormal medium and Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as her clumsy assistants. Their introduction midway through injects a “Ghostbusters”-like playfulness that allows Wan to include some comic beats without lessening the weight of the situation, and it really adds a layer of enjoyment to the experience. After all, horror films are supposed to be fun to watch, and though "Insidious" trips up a bit in the end with a lame and predictable coda, it's still a highly enjoyable piece of scare-you-shitless cinema that even a non-fan can appreciate.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
James Wan’s latest horror film arrives on Blu-ray with a modest yet entertaining collection of bonus material. Although an audio commentary with Wan and writer Leigh Whannell would have been a nice addition, Sony has included a trio of production featurettes that help make up for its absence. “Horror 101” discusses the secrets of making a great horror film, “On Set with Insidious” offers a behind-the-scenes look at shooting the movie, and “Insidious Entities” covers the creation of the film’s villains.